Key Takeaway: A number of factors affect the perception of key stakeholders in relation to the fairness of assessment practices for students with learning differences. Elements such as student disability, existing assessment processes, the socio-emotional environment, stakeholders’ conceptions of fairness, and contextual facilitators and barriers to inclusive practices interact to influence the overall fairness factor of classroom assessment. Having an awareness of this multidimensional conceptualization of fairness is helpful in evaluating whether assessment practices are offering equal opportunities to demonstrate learning, and also scaffolds students’ ability to self-advocate for their needs. -Akane Yoshida

“Creating inclusive classrooms has been a justice movement in education,” say Rasooli et. al., and in this paper they seek to fill the void they find in current literature regarding fairness in assessment practices by adding the voices of students with learning differences, their parents, and their teachers to the mix. 

Their paper contributes a framework for fairness in assessment as “a multidimensional concept that is negotiated and navigated in the cyclical and dynamic interactions with classroom teaching and interactions.” According to the authors, this conceptualization is “closely tied with the sociocultural theories of assessment that recognise the social, cultural and economic milieu within which teachers and students interpret and enact fairness in assessment.”

The study methodology describes a process by which data was pulled from open-ended surveys submitted by teachers, students, and their parents from 19 secondary schools across Australia. The questionnaires included such queries as “How was the assessment adjusted for you?” for the student survey, “Do you think this adjustment better allowed [your child] to demonstrate what [they] knew or could do?” for the parent survey, and “Do you think you would adjust assessment differently in the future for this student? If yes, please comment on what changes you would make.” for the teacher survey. Inductive and thematic coding was used by the researchers to identify themes in the responses. Through this analysis, four larger themes emerged: “conceptions of fairness, fair classroom assessment practices, fair socio-emotional environment and contextual barriers and facilitators of fair practices.”

Summarized below are the findings in relation to each theme:

  1. Overall conceptions of fairness: Participants expressed equal accessibility for all students as being the greatest determinant of fairness in assessment. Adjustments to assessment practices were thought to be fair when they offered students with learning differences optimal opportunity for success in line with mainstream expectations.
  1. Fair classroom practices: Three sub-themes emerged from the responses as factors that can support or hinder fairness in assessment:
  • Differentiation of the assessment preparation process and design (accessibility of the mode of assessment, clarity in the task format and expectations, as well as the opportunity to prepare for the assessment)
  • Differentiation of assessment settings and environment (provision of a quiet space, additional time and breaks) 
  • Differentiation of assessment scheduling (ensuring that multiple assessments do not occur within a short period of time)
  1. Fair socio-emotional environment: Three sub-themes emerged here as well:
  • Student self-concept 
  • Impact of the learning difference on the socio-emotional environment
  • Relationships with teachers and peers
  1. Contextual barriers and facilitators of fair practices: Participants identified school and national-level policies, teacher experience, availability of paraprofessionals and other human resources, class size and parent influence as being the most influential factors in fair assessment.

While the study drew upon participants from a variety of grade levels and learning differences, it concedes that future research involving a larger sample size from a wider range of educational systems would be necessary in order to lend greater credibility to its conclusions. 

Summarized Article:

Rasooli, A., Razmjoee, M., Cumming, J., Dickson, E., & Webster, A. (2021). Conceptualising a Fairness Framework for Assessment Adjusted Practices for Students with Disability: An Empirical Study. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 1-21.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida—Akane believes that developing supportive and nurturing relationships with students is key to helping them to attain their personal benchmarks for success. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Key Takeaway: The implication of this review is that a lack of preparation prior to supporting students with disabilities in PE class, particularly those with visual impairments, can lead to indirect and direct bullying of the students by teachers, paraeducators, and peers. As special educators, we must include PE teachers and paraeducators in IEP meetings and ensure they feel prepared to modify and adapt their program for learners with disabilities. —Erin Madonna

Lindsay Ball and colleagues completed a systematic review of the literature around bullying of students with visual impairments in the Physical Education (PE) setting. The purpose of their review was to describe the current experiences of youth with visual impairments in order to develop avenues for future research around issues of bullying in physical education classes. 

For the study, 114 participants reported on their experiences in PE with a broad age range represented due to the retrospective nature of some of the included studies. Ball et al. (2021) oriented their work with the definition of bullying posed by Chester et al. (2015)1 and Stough et al. (2016);2 Bullying is “the intentional behavior to physically or emotionally harm another, which occurs through an imbalance of power.” Exclusion of youth with visual impairment, when done with intention, was considered bullying in the context of this review. The team focused their review around three questions:

  • “What types of bullying are youth with visual impairments experiencing during PE?”
  • “When/how does the bullying take place and by whom?”
  • “What are the outcomes of the bullying?”

Overwhelmingly, this review makes clear just how common bullying of youth with visual impairments is in the PE setting. As they describe the frequency found within the studies they reviewed, Ball et al. (2021) point to the findings of Bear et al. (2015)3 reporting that young people with visual impairments are likely to be bullied twice as frequently as peers without disabilities. Social-relational bullying was by far the most common form found in the reviewed studies, with 86% of studies reporting exclusion, marginalization, isolation, and other forms of discrimination present in PE experiences. Dishearteningly, 93% of studies indicated that the bullying occurred during PE class time with 93% of studies showing peer-to-peer bullying and 50% of studies revealing the bullying was perpetrated by the educators themselves.

While the rate of bullying may appear shockingly high, it is upon review of Ball et al.’s (2021) data where we begin to understand the systematic structures which have allowed for this bullying to persist. “PE teachers are often ill prepared to teach children with visual impairments due to a lack of adequate preparation. This lack of knowledge leads to unnecessary exclusion, both intentional and unintentional, of students with visual impairments from participation during PE.” 

Underprepared educators are unable to create an environment where students with visual impairments are empowered and included. As Ball et al. (2021) point out “efforts made by teachers to promote a climate that is autonomy-supportive are the foundation of positive perceptions of inclusion, according to the perspectives of children with disabilities.”

They even go further to share Jimenez-Barbero et al.’s (2020) recommendation that, “when Universal Design for Learning is utilized in PE, all students with or without disabilities benefited from it. Physical educators can create a climate of acceptance and empathy that fosters participation by all students which may lead to increased self-esteem and decreased bullying of students.”

When considering the outcomes of the bullying experienced, Ball et al. (2021) describe how negative feelings towards physical education can persist through adulthood, often manifesting in the form of avoidance of physical activities. This impact has long-reaching implications for the health and well-being of those with visual impairments. Allowing youth with visual impairments to participate fully in physical education classes, rather than restricting their participation because of a fear of risk, perception of weakness, or other limits has the potential to positively impact their self-esteem. “Autonomy, competence, and dignity of risk are all critical components of an individual’s self-determination, which has a large influence on an individual’s motivation to participate in physical activity.”

Ball et al. (2021) also touch upon the question of self-advocacy as a possible counter-action to bullying. In the majority (86%) of participant responses, no resolution to the bullying occured. There was evidence that when the student with visual impairments ceased to be perceived as an “easy target,” the bullying also ceased. If students with visual impairments are supported in harnessing the power of their own voice, we provide alternate paths to confronting bullying and changing the paradigm that has allowed bullying to persist in PE classes.

It is important to note that this review was limited in part by the fact that not much was known about the participant’s backgrounds or the training of the PE teachers and paraeducators involved. The retrospective nature of some of the included studies may also have resulted in details being forgotten or reported PE practices being inconsistent with current practices.

Summarized Article:

Ball, L., Lieberman, L., Haibach-Beach, P., Perreault, M., & Tirone, K. (2021). Bullying in physical education of children and youth with visual impairments: A systematic review. British Journal of Visual Impairment, 02646196211009927.

Summary by: Erin Madonna — Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted belief that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of multidisciplinary research.

Research author Lauren J. Lieberman, Ph.D., was involved in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. Chester, K. L., Callaghan, M., Cosma, A., Donnelly, P., Craig, W., Walsh, S., & Molcho, M. (2015). Cross-national time trends in bullying victimization in 33 countries among children aged 11, 13, and 15 from 2002 to 2010. The European Journal of Public Health, 25(Suppl. 2), 61–64. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckv029
  2. Stough, C. O., Merianos, A., Nabors, L., & Peugh, J. (2016). Prevalence and predictors of bullying behavior among overweight and obese youth in a nationally representative sample. Childhood Obesity, 12(4), 263–271. https://doi.org/10.1089/chi.2015.0172
  3. Bear, G. G., Mantz, L. S., Glutting, J. J., Yang, C., & Boyer, D. E. (2015). Differences in bullying victimization between students with and without disabilities. School Psychology Review, 44(1), 98–116. https://doi.org/10.17105/SPR44-1.98-116

Key Takeaway: Educators can consider Goldilocks to be a metaphor to describe learners who experience Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Utilizing both classroom menus and UDL design challenges can help educators plan a range of activities in their classes which can serve as a “buffet” from which learners can pick “just right” activities. —Matt Barker

“Goldilocks is the perfect metaphor for describing learners experiencing universal design for learning (UDL) because it highlights the importance of learner agency,” says Edyburn and Edyburn as they dive into the essential practices for developing meaningful classroom menus or buffets to meet the needs of diverse learners. The teacher plays a pivotal role in planning educational activities and as such needs support as to how to implement UDL both through the use of educational materials and technologies. Teachers need to consider the general characteristics of diverse learners and support them to choose “just right” learning activities to improve learning outcomes. 

First, teachers need to “bridge the gap between knowing about UDL and doing UDL.” The challenge is for teachers to provide a variety of meaningful activities. One way to do this is for teachers to embark on “discovering alternatives,” essentially, recognising that there are many similar products in the technology marketplace that address a particular challenge.

One example is supporting students with managing their to-do lists. In this instance, it is recommended that the teacher provides a menu of options. This might include the “cloud-based to-do list Remember the Milk”. In this example, the variety of options could be provided as a web list menu, where the learners are supported to review the options to find the one that is “just right.”  To find programs to add to this menu, the authors suggest using a crowd-sourced recommendation platform such as AlternativeTo. In this instance, searching “Alternatives to Remember The Milk” should bring up said platform.

Edyburn and Edyburn (2021) also suggest exploring curated guides. This essentially means investigating websites curated by educators that help teachers navigate various technology tools for learners. 

Once the teacher has begun collating their technology tools, they need to consider how to organize and manage these resources in an online toolkit format. The authors provide three management system suggestions:

  • Using a Web List Menu through the use of web pages
  • Providing an Equalizer Menu, where a range of options are available from easiest to hardest
  • Utilizing a Tic-Tac-Toe Menu, where teachers identify nine learning activities for a topic and students select a row of three activities to complete

The authors then investigate the use of Design Challenges to provide solutions in terms of rolling out UDL in the classroom. They explain that “the development of UDL design challenges” has been created to empower “educators [to] think about accessibility, engagement, and learning solutions in a format that could help standardize decision-making about design interventions.” Furthermore, each challenge is modelled to value academic diversity by asking “what do teachers need to know about why and how students struggle to proactively embed supports to ensure that students can access, engage, and benefit from the learning activities?”

Finally, the authors suggest a four level rubric that can be used by the teacher to assess how effectively they have created a series of “just right” activities. In this instance, they consider text complexity, but the performance indicators can be edited to match the planned activities. The rubric levels are:

Level 0: Beginning performance

  • “no evidence of meaningful student choice”

Level 1: Approaching performance

  • Demonstrates “an appreciation for the need for UDL”
  • Provides an element of choice

Level 2: Meeting performance

  • Multimedia options provided in how the activity is accessed
  • The teacher has a “clearly articulated philosophy that recognized that no single intervention may be sufficient and that multiple tools may be necessary”

Level 3: Exceeding performance

  • As well as level 2, the teacher provides tools that “the students can use to modify the cognitive accessibility of the text” (referenced in Edyburn, 2002)1

Summarized Article:

Edyburn, K., & Edyburn, D. L. (2021). Classroom Menus for Supporting the Academic Success of Diverse Learners. Intervention in School and Clinic, 56(4), 243-249.

Summary by: Matt Barker — Matt loves how the MARIO Framework empowers learners to make meaningful choices to drive their personalized learning journeys.

Additional References

  1. Edyburn, D. L. (2002). Cognitive rescaling strategies: Interventions that alter the cognitive accessibility of text. Closing the Gap, 1, 10-11.

Key Takeaway: This article provides educators with a manual on how to utilize positive and proactive behaviour management strategies to improve student engagement in virtual environments using platforms like Zoom or G Suite. Consistent, clear routines and expectations, explicit teaching of the desired behaviour and opportunities for communication between students and teacher have resulted in higher engagement and learning outcomes. —Frankie Garbutt

“High-levels of classroom engagement and on-task behaviour have been linked to positive outcomes for students,” says Renee Speight (University of Arkansas) and Suzanne Kucharcyzk (University of Arkansas) in this article of the Journal of Special Education Technology. The authors argued that strategies of Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports (PBIS), used to” facilitate improvements in student engagement,” should be adjusted to the virtual environments as part of teachers’ “instructional repertoire.”

Speight and Kucharczyk outline that PBIS is a “system of support involving direct instruction of expected behaviours and modification of the classroom environment through antecedents and consequences to promote student demonstration of expected behaviours.”

The following strategies have been identified as “high-leveraging practices for inclusive educational environments:”

  • Creating clear routines: This applies to aspects of a lesson like readiness to learn, instructional routines as well as task submission. Such routines will “minimize the labour required to re-create learning processes with the shifts from in-classroom to virtual learning.”
  • Explicit instruction on expected behaviours: “Teachers should identify three to five behaviours critical to a positive and productive virtual learning session” and “steps should be taken to explicitly teach” these. This could be complemented by visual depictions of the expected behaviours
  • Prompting and acknowledging expected behaviour: Once behaviours are identified and taught, teachers should “use precorrection” (like prompting) “at the onset of instructional sessions or shifts in teaching arrangements, such as when students move into breakout sessions.” To individualize prompting, teachers could use the chat feature in Zoom or G Suite.
  • Opportunities to respond: Teachers should consistently create opportunities to respond “to increase active engagement” by using tools such as “polls and participant nonverbal responses” as well as “Google Forms.” To allow for equal participation, students should be given wait or thinking time prior to responding.
  • Access to reinforcers: Reinforcement of “desired behaviour changes” ought to be “guided by student preferences which can be determined by using preference assessment” through tools like Google Forms. In virtual sessions, it is crucial that access to reinforcers are regular and miscellaneous.

The authors concluded that the practices of PBIS, embedded into the virtual learning setting, can result in students demonstrating expected behaviours and facilitating “high levels of engagement and learning.”

Article summarized

Speight, R., & Kucharczyk, S. (2021). Leveraging Positive Behavior Supports to Improve Engagement in Virtual Settings. Journal of Special Education Technology, 36(2), 90–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162643421992704

Summary by: Frankie Garbutt — Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Key Takeaway: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) creates and supports personalized learning experiences that build learner independence, agency, and engagement. Maintaining student engagement, establishing a consistent learning routine, and monitoring progress and making instructional changes are ways to successfully apply UDL principles when teaching problem-solving skills remotely to students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). —Ashley Parnell

Summary: The shift to digital learning environments has provided an opportunity for special educators to use technology to deliver effective, high-quality instruction. Specifically, substantial research supports the use of Video-based Instruction (VBI) for teaching mathematics to students with ASD.

In this article, Cox, Root, and Gilley describe how one special education teacher, Mrs. Shaw, plans to “utilize VBI through free online platforms (i.e., SeeSaw, Loom) to implement a mathematical problem-solving instructional strategy (i.e., Modified Schema-based Instruction; MSBI) for students with ASD while at home.” On demand (i.e., asynchronous) videos will be used to deliver explicit strategy instruction, while allowing for flexibility (i.e., time, place, & pace) and opportunities to differentiate instruction based on individual student needs and preferences.

MSBI is an evidence-based practice for teaching mathematical problem-solving to students with mathematics-related disabilities and challenges. Supporting executive functioning skills and flexibility, MSBI provides a structured sequence of problem-solving strategies that can be applied across scenarios including: 1) identifying problem structure based on important features, 2) representing that information on a schematic diagram (i.e., graphic organizer), 3) making a plan, and 4) carrying out the plan and checking for reasonableness.

The study encourages teachers to merge/draw upon current research on TAI and evidence-based practices when planning for virtual problem-solving instruction, making sure to consider how the following high-impact instructional strategies can be maintained and addressed within remote learning environments.

Maintaining Student Engagement. “Students must be engaged in order to make progress on learning goals…The UDL framework helps teachers proactively consider barriers students may face during learning, and intentionally design instruction to reduce potential barriers.” Mrs. Shaw will increase engagement by contextualizing word problems within real-world themes relevant to student interest and background. Using VBI allows special educators to maintain principles of explicit instruction (i.e., modeling, quick pace, active student responding,etc.) while SeeSaw provides flexible opportunities and methods for students to demonstrate their learning, further enhancing student engagement.

Establishing a Consistent Learning Routine. Cox et al. emphasize the importance of predictable and consistent learning routines for students with ASD during remote learning. Screencasting tools such as Loom can be used to create a sequence of scripted video models that follow a model—guided practice—independent practice format. Visual supports including graphic organizers and checklists also provide structure and systematically guide students in following the problem-solving routine and daily schedule. Instructional videos and visual supports can be embedded within digital engagement platforms (e.g., SeeSaw) to establish clear and consistent expectations and routines.

Monitoring Progress and Making Instructional Changes. Aligning with the UDL framework, “Instructional data is used both to increase support when needed as well as challenge and progress through phases of learning.” Mrs. Shaw will view online work samples and student screen recordings during work completion, features available in Seesaw, to analyze errors and guide instructional decision making and modifications. Technology can be further leveraged to increase or decrease support (i.e., 1:1 Zoom sessions, targeted video models, fading of visual supports, self-monitoring tools).

Article Summarized:

Cox, S., Root, J., & Gilley, D. (2021). Let’s See That Again: Using Instructional Videos to Support Asynchronous Mathematical Problem Solving Instruction for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Special Education Technology, 36(2), 97-104.

Summary By: Ashley M. Parnell – Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment, and passion and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.