Guide

The College Readiness Checklist: A tool for the TVI toolkit

How educators and VR counselors can assess skill gaps, and help students prepare more effectively for independence after high school.

By: Leslie Thatcher, M.Ed., Director of College Success @ Perkins with Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald, Director of Miami Lighthouse’s CVI Collaborative Center 

Those famous last words – assessment drives instruction – that we all know well from our training to become certified professionals serving students with visual impairments, are back, in a big way. Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVIs), Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS), Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialists (CATIS) and many other educators or counselors serving students with visual impairments or blindness, know that our most critical responsibility is to assess the student’s present levels of visual functioning, assess how their visual functioning is impacting or affecting their access to learning, and then design instruction to fill those gaps, gradually and strategically.

Assessment sets this process in motion, so that instruction can serve to hone and develop a skill and movement toward the student’s own independent proficiency. Assessment makes the process unique to a student’s individual needs; it is ongoing, if not daily, and it is a living, breathing process. Yet, gaps can exist with any assessment regiment. 

Barriers to college readiness

For students with blindness and visual impairments, who aspire to attend college, the push to manage daily challenges of accessibility can cloud our ability to view skills from a larger perspective, and with the end goals in mind, such as college-ready skills by the end of Grade 12, or high school graduation. This challenge, coupled with the complexity of teaching blindness skills to such a broad range of students, and the demands that a student move through high school at the same pace as their typically sighted peers, can lead to students reaching Grade 12, but lacking essential skills for college and career readiness. In some cases, students are not aware of these gaps.  

The Perkins College Readiness Checklist provides an accessible conversation starter. It can help raise awareness, and provide a roadmap for TVIs, Transition Counselors, families and students, to prioritize and plan how college aspiring students can acquire these skills by high school graduation. The Checklist can be used with students of any age, but is most appropriate for Grade 6 and older. 

Awareness and skill development go hand in hand

While it serves many purposes, the College Readiness Checklist’s principal goal is to assess the development of awareness and skills that your student will need to engage in a productive college experience. The Checklist can “raise awareness of the range of skills students need to be confident in, and truly independent in, to be successful in college-level work,” notes Leslie Thatcher, Director of College Success @ Perkins School for the Blind.  These skills take time to recognize and develop. 

As educators, we can introduce this tool early to both student and family, to promote deeper exploration of skills, and to make a coordinated plan to develop these skills both in and out of school. It’s best not to wait until a student is looking at colleges to use the Checklist to start these deeper conversations, but even at that point, it can still provide guidance as you develop reasonable timelines. These may include the possibility of an extra year before high school graduation, or a Gap Year. This extra time may allow training on crucial blindness skills that may not have been addressed in high school or at home. Now is a great time to pick up the Checklist, and start these conversations.

Using the checklist: No wrong time

The earlier that a student’s teachers and parents work with the College Readiness Checklist, and consider the skills that their college-aspiring student should be developing and building proficiency in, the more effective the entire team will be in their process, allowing time to plan proactively for college (and work/career) readiness. As noted in the introduction to the Checklist, “this will allow more time to engage, develop the fluency necessary to tackle college-level work independently, and to plan for and request the classes needed to achieve these critical milestones.” 

For the elementary school student 

For younger students, the Checklist can put certain concepts on their radar. It can help the student’s family, and their teachers, as they continue developing academic, executive functioning and independent living skills. While younger students would not be expected to engage with the Checklist independently or read and compile their own answers, you, their TVI, COMS, CATIS or Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC), can place it in their file and use it as a foundation for backwards planning.

Knowing where they need to be with independent living skills, academics, social emotional skills, etc., as a college-bound elementary school student, will allow you, their educator, to be more effectively and proactively designing lessons in elementary and middle school. If you know the level of proficiency that your student will be expected to have with assistive technology, your instruction and IEP goal setting can be aligned with a student’s possible goals, realistic from the start. 

For the middle school / high school student 

Depending on where your student is in their emotional maturity and understanding of their own visual impairment, students in middle school, moving toward high school may be ready to sit down with you, their TVI, COMS, CATIS or VRC, to read the Checklist and respond to the questions. This is a great time for the student to ask questions, gain insight about new concepts and build a plan based on their gaps in knowledge or skill. 

The College Readiness Checklist may help your student begin to build new, more mature understandings of what college means, and identify goals they can set for themselves, to achieve their long term goals.”

In contrast to when they were very young, this Checklist can initiate exciting conversations!  The “assessment” portion of this process can become more of a dialogue. Students are starting to consider their interests, their limitations, articulate their goals and begin to conceptualize what it will take to achieve those goals. In that way, the Checklist invites us to take advantage of new, developmental gains, so we can begin backwards planning toward a college readiness goal with the student, by putting the locus of control IN the student, not the adults around them. The Checklist may help your student begin to build new, more mature understandings of what college means, and identify goals they can set for themselves, to achieve their long term goals.

Getting more perspectives helps to close the gap

Consider asking the parent or guardian, and classroom teachers to complete the Checklist as well.  Having a range of perspectives can be a powerful tool in helping a student get more involved, and get more authentic feedback from adults in their lives. It can also help parents and general educators to learn the complex layers of skills that a student must acquire to achieve the level of independence that many assume just happens. This independence may not occur, however, without explicit planning and instruction. And, students having realistic opportunities to practice, get feedback, adjust and try again, while still in the K-12 system.  

Skill areas and rating scale 

The College Readiness Checklist is divided into sections, or skills, that focus on the key areas of college-level preparedness.

How to use the checklist

You, the assessor (of a younger student), or the student, will read each item and note or place a number ranging from 1-6 next to each statement. The rating scale, described below, help to determine if that student has begun skill development in that area, or not. In many cases, administering the Checklist to the student can provide excellent insight into a student’s self perception of skills. This can allow you to compare their responses to the reality that you know about the student’s independence, for example, in homework completion, or technology skills such as typing.

Separating it from other assessments and checklists in our field, Perkins College Readiness Checklist contains first-person statements, from the student’s perspective. This allows the student to read each item in their own voice. They can begin to assume responsibility for their skill development, and begin to recognize that they need to begin to own their journey toward independence

We created this scale to be in the student’s voice, to put the locus of control in that student. It also helps the student begin to understand that they don’t have to know everything.

Leslie Thatcher, EdM, Director, College Success @ Perkins

As the student reads through the Checklist, they will encounter statements such as: “I have just started learning this skill” or “I can do some of this skill without any help or assistance.” Director of College Success @ Perkins, Leslie Thatcher, weighs in on the strategic design of the Checklist, “We created this scale to be in the student’s voice, to put the locus of control in that student. It also helps the student begin to understand that they don’t have to know everything. This is your chance as a teacher to help the student reflect on their own goal setting. You can then support the student to recognize which skills they want to learn and to build on, in order to help them meet their own goals.”

The rating scale 

1 = No exposure

2 = Beginning: I have just started learning this skill.

3 = Developing: I can do some of this skill without any assistance.

4 = Approaching proficiency: I can do most of this skill most of the time without any assistance but sometimes need help or reminders.

5 = Proficient: I can do this skill with little help or reminders.

6 = Advanced: I can independently* do this skill without any support or reminders with consistency and can problem-solve independently.

The Rating Scale range allows the student and the student’s TVI, or other adult support, to look at present levels. And to balance perception vs reality. Then, together, they can consider future goals, and explore strategies and instruction that will move skills forward. For example, moving a “2 = just beginning to learn this skill” to a “3 = I can do some of this skill without any assistance” over the course of a year. It may take longer, depending on the skill area, and it may take less time, but it’s being addressed. The range of the rating scale, in that way, is practical and realistic. When paired with a long term goal, such as going to community college, or going to college in a big city, instruction can then be better aligned with long term goals. 

It’s designed to be a light, interactive conversation-starter that also gives the adult and the student permission to talk about things from the student perspective that are hard to talk about.”

“That’s why the rating scale looks the way it does,” adds Leslie. “It’s designed to be a light, interactive conversation-starter that also gives the adult and the student permission to talk about things from the student perspective that are hard to talk about and sometimes not even conceptualized yet, by the student, about the realities of adult expectations for responsibility, independence and the skills needed to attain goals. It’s hard to think about something you’ve never experienced. The Checklist begins to introduce these ideas, so a student can then think, and act on these new ideas.  And the educators, and parents, can better coordinate and plan.”  

Sharing the student’s Checklist responses and the student’s articulated goals with an IEP team leads to greater coordination. TVIs can create opportunities for realistic conversations and strategic planning for instruction.

Great tools think alike

You may notice that several components of the nine Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) skill areas are present in the College Readiness Checklist as well. Rather than view them as two separate tools, consider these as complimentary assessment tools. Both are designed to enrich your student’s skills for a fulfilling academic career, college readiness, career planning and self-sufficient future. 

“This [Checklist] is a combination of ECC and a way to unpack executive functioning…it’s taking the skills assumed to be established, in students, by colleges, and it’s breaking them into ECC-related tasks,” adds Leslie. While the ECC is artfully designed, it is also immense and complex, and takes enormous amounts of time and effort to address, practically, and thoroughly. “The lack of time in high school (and earlier schooling) to develop these skills leads to gaps in skills.  And, splinter skills can mask significant, and debilitating skill gaps, leading to assumptions about college and career readiness that mislead students and families. We can help support the educators and parents with concrete tools like the College Readiness Checklist” says Leslie. “My hope is that as we engage more with TVIs, and COMS and VRCs and parents, with targeted concepts, skills and language, we can all start speaking the same language, much earlier. Then, we can plan from an informed, proactive perspective.”

The lack of time in high school (and before) to develop these skills leads to gaps in skills. Splinter skills can mask significant, and debilitating skill gaps, leading to assumptions about college and career readiness that mislead students and families.  We can help support the educators and parents with concrete tools like the College Readiness Checklist.

Leslie Thatcher, Director, College Success @ Perkins

While the ECC is more comprehensive and covers skills for all ages and abilities, from birth on, the College Readiness Checklist assesses the degree of exposure, development and proficiency for college (and career) readiness specific skills. The Checklist can and should be used by you, the TVI, or others, to backwards plan. It can inform daily lesson plans, instructional strategies and IEP goals – but with a Grade 12 endpoint front and center.  

TVIs often work with a complex, large caseload working under often unrealistic time constraints, while trying to provide quality service. The Checklist can serve as that entry point into concrete college-readiness framed lesson planning, geared toward much-needed, often-overlooked life skills. 

Our students are trying to squeeze in so many layers of learning in addition to academics… and the education system hasn’t re-engineered itself for the Tech Revolution, and it hasn’t engineered a process that permits as much student independence as possible in learning, as early as possible.

That’s where TVIs, by using the Checklist, can increase opportunities for independence – and authentic feedback for a student and their family. In a synergistic process, students and TVIs can consider the work still needed to acquire college-ready skills. Then, they can begin with a plan aligned with concrete college readiness goals. 

Honest self-reflection, meaningful dialogue and commitment  

The actual process of administering and/or engaging with the Checklist is, in and of itself, a valuable learning experience for the teacher and the student. Teachers and students can gain key insights and opportunities for reflection. This can be the hard part for some students, and often the cause of the most resistance. Yet, we can meet them where they are by using the Checklist to guide them through goal development and planning to achieve each goal. This is not a time for “You should really…” type statements.  Consider “What is one thing that could move you forward on this goal?” and “How could that impact your efficiency here?” and so on.  

As Leslie recognizes, “It’s human nature to cover up one’s sense of inadequacy or things that make us feel different. As educators, we can help students understand how they might be struggling with taking steps that may make them appear ‘different’, yet might help them achieve a stated goal – such as attending a college or completing a degree.”  The Checklist allows for structured exploration of skills aligned with college readiness, and opens the door for honest reflection about actual demonstrated skills vs a student’s perception of skills.  Time invested in this exploration can move a student toward greater acceptance, and ability to act to meet their goals, with more commitment and understanding of their importance. 

Considerations for self-reflection

Some areas to consider for self-reflection when working with your student with visual impairment and engaging with the CRC are: 

“I think of self-reflection, in this sense, as concept development; it’s concept development for these students as they grow into young adults. As they figure out what that entails, it’s concept development for our students learning with a visual impairment, as they work to integrate their blindness identity as they emerge into adulthood,” shares Leslie.

The Checklist helps our students to acquire more concepts about what adulthood, and college attendance could mean for them, and helps them consider how that aligns with their skills.  

Raising the bar

The work required to complete high school for students learning with vision impairment and blindness is no small task. Often, we overlook skills, reduce expectations and temper assessments to not upset a student. Yet, this may leave our students without the ability to self-reflect accurately, and to create plans for skill development that help them to meet their goals. The College Readiness Checklist is an effective tool to introduce more advanced skills, to build deeper conversations, based on concrete skills and goals. “This can be a springboard to start to understand the layers, depending on where a student is, cognitively and developmentally, in building their own understanding of themselves,” concludes Thatcher.

Every interaction provides data!

From the moment you first present the Checklist to your student, you may be able to see how the student welcomes or resists the process. Now, you have a starting point. It can show you where the student is in their journey of self-awareness and their social-emotional growth. You may now understand how able they are to take a step back and honestly, if possible, reflect on their strengths and limitations. It also helps us, the teacher, design how we will approach that skill area moving forward. 

Other parts of the Checklist administration also provide important data and insights.  Consider the capacity and ease with which the student is able to access the Checklist. It is fully accessible to students along the range of visual impairments. The Checklist can be sent as a digital file to emboss, read on a screen reader or refreshable braille display, phone VoiceOver, or printed in large print.

Authentic feedback

Witnessing how the student accesses their checklist, and if, once they have the proper file, they are able to navigate and respond to each question, provides another window into where that student may fall on the range of their skills. You may learn about their technology and academic skills, as they read, and their ability to comprehend the document. What vocabulary do they ask about or misinterpret?  What questions do they answer without reflection, but which might really need reflection?  And, if they are unable to access the document, for technological or reading challenges, do they speak-up and explain the issue? How effectively can the student recognize a problem, and are they able to accurately diagnose it, thus leading to insights about the development of self-advocacy and self-determination skills? These are the soft skills of college and career readiness.

As their TVI, you know that it’s never “comfortable” for our students to feel different and it can be even more challenging for students to put words to this feeling. The Checklist can begin to provide students with concepts that explain challenges they may feel but cannot express; it’s an invitation to unpack them together. You know your student’s personality well, and you know what they find exciting, what they love to talk about, and what they may choose to ignore because it feels hard. You can empower your student to recognize that they have the opportunity to build a skill that will help them in the future. 

Backward planning

Now, you have a clearer idea of the skill-level of your students in each of the Checklist Skill Areas. You’ve opened the space for productive, real conversations about interests and goals and working hard to achieve goals… what’s next? 

Imagine the collaboration that could evolve when an entire team – student, parent, TVI, COMS, VRC, classroom teacher, guidance counselor – understands your student’s present skill levels. And, they can begin to understand the student’s commitment to build his or her own skills toward college readiness. As the TVI, you can help to initiate these conversations. You can collaborate with the student’s team with vision specific strategies, integrating expertise of others. Eventually, you can allow the student to self-advocate for their own needs in the classroom, home environment and community. 

New opportunities

Leslie also notes the importance of the classroom teacher in this scenario. “I would tell them to remember that we must assume that this student with a visual impairment has the potential to do as well as any other student in your class. So consider using the Checklist to think about all these additional things a student with a visual impairment may need to tackle, more intentionally and more functionally than their typical sighted peers who are learning things by observing others do them.” She asks the general education teacher to “consider integrating these skills early on in a sequential manner to support independence. This way, visually impaired students have a better chance of staying on track with their sighted peers.”

Together, with an aligned team, driven by your student’s growing understanding of what “college readiness” means, and with goals they have set based on the results from the Perkins College Readiness Checklist, students, their families and educational teams, can plan to develop skills for greater college readiness by the end of high school. 

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