Thursday, April 12, 2007

Technology and Alternative Cognitive Assessment?

I've been struggling to provide alternative assessments to use when I work with students who have previously tested within the severe to profound range of cognitive ability. Often these young people have more than one disability and it is very difficult to identify "hidden" cognitive strengths or areas of emerging skills.

Although some of students do not have the skills necessary to point to items on a test stimulus card, or understand the directions required by traditional cognitive test batteries, some of them they CAN point and "click" on a screen, using a mouse or an AT device.

I know of several students who test within the severe range of cognitive ability who who can navigate websites to find entertainment, music, learning activities, and special interests, often without assistance. These skills are important, but they are not included in standarized cognitive or adaptive behavior assessments.

Some people are working hard to figure out a "better way".

Organization SoftTouch, Inc. provided a workshop for educators of students who have severe disabilities addressing this concern. The workshop,
"Show Me What You Know — Alternate Assessment for Students with Autism, Cognitive and Physical Disabilities", was presented at a the Conference 2006: Technology & Persons with Disabilities.

The people at CAST- Center for Applied Special Technology, known for getting the word out about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), are also concerned about the need for accessible assessments.

I'm interested in alternative assessments and how cognitive evaluation procedures can embody the principles of universal design and access. School psychologists need more tech in our toolboxes if we are to provide meaningful assessments. This technology needs to embody the principals of "universal usability", a topic that I'll address more in-depth in a future blog.

We also need to look at current research in related fields, such as cogntive science. Here is an example:

According to the article in the Charlotte Observer (April 12, 2007), IBM volunteered to work with researchers from the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience to develop computer games designed to test the reasoning , learning, and memory skills of primates. The computer games are installed on touch-screen monitors embeeded in primate habitats in several zoos, including Zoo Atlanta.

I haven't done much reading in this area, but from what I can see, the research with primates has the potential to help develop better methods of assessing cognitive functioning of people who have strengths and abilities that can not be assessed through traditional psychological and cognitive tests.

Interesting Resources:

"The Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) is the national network of community-based Resource Centers, Developers, Vendors, and Associates dedicated to providing information and support services to children and adults with disabilities, and increasing their use of standard, assistive, and information technologies."

Julie Martin-Malivel's website Dr. Martin-Malivel conducts comparative cognition research in human and non-human primates.

"Chimpanzee Facial Expressions are Helping Researchers Understand Human Emotional Communication" This is being conducted by the Yerkes National Primate Research Center Cognitive Testing Facility. Food for thought.

"Universal Usability"
Universal Usability principles ensure that web sites and web-based applications are accessible. I think that these principles should be considered when planning cognitive and related assessments for people who have low incidence and/or multiple disabilities. (Leave a comment- I want to know what people think about this!)

Novint Falcon 3-D Haptic Game Controller - This device looks like it will have great potential for young people with visual and mobility impairments.

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