Aims

What were the main aims of the initiative?

An eight-month consultancy project was implemented in Armenia to support the revision of special educational needs assessment and education planning procedures in alignment with the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health for Children and Youth (ICF-CY) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Commissioned by UNICEF-Armenia, this project entailed collaboration between consultants and a local team of experts, in a scaffolding process based on existing resources and needs. The outcomes included a package of tools and procedures for a holistic and dynamic assessment, and an effective methodology for the design of Individualised Education Programmes (IEPs) focused on enabling environments for inclusion.

Themes

The work’s main aim was to support the shift of special educational needs assessment procedures from deficit-based models of disability (centred on identifying students’ impairments) to current socio-ecological approaches. Using the ICF-CY (WHO, 2007) as a guiding framework, the described consultancy process sought to build a common language and understanding of disability processes, viewing them as a gap between individuals’ needs and the environmental supports provided. Framed in such a perspective, a package of assessment tools and procedures was developed in order to produce functioning profiles that can better inform individualised planning of educational responses.

Background

Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

In the last decade, Armenia has made substantial progress in the field of inclusive education, expanding the network of inclusive schools and gradually transforming special schools into resource centres devoted to supporting inclusive education (Hunt, 2009). Concurrent to the aim of realising the right of children with disabilities to inclusive education, came the need to restructure special needs assessment procedures and additional support provision for children with disabilities. Until early 2013, the assessment processes conducted by the Medical-Psychological-Pedagogical Assessment Centre (MPPC) mainly focused on medical diagnosis and on child developmental tests, targeting the identification of areas of difficulty with reference to normative indicators (Poghosyan, 2012).

Aligned with current international trends, the challenge was to revise the assessment measures and procedures in order to provide multidimensional and inter-relational descriptions of each child’s participation. The focus was on the assessment – conducted by the MPPC in co-operation with schools – of all Armenian children who may have additional support needs targeted by special education responses.

With that purpose, a collaborative relationship was established between consultants and the local team of experts from the MPPC. As required for the project, consultants had expertise in inclusive education principles and practice, in the evaluation of special education policies and, specifically, in the use of the ICF-CY as a reference framework in educational contexts. The MPPC experts, which were the team responsible for assessing children’s special educational needs in Armenia, were from different disciplinary areas, including psychology and social work. The collaboration also included representatives from key entities in education and inclusion in Armenia, such as the Bridge of Hope, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Pedagogical and Yerevan State Universities and the National Institute of Education.

The products resulting from the consultancy project were subsequently disseminated, through the training of teams at other Assessment Centres throughout the different regions of Armenia

ISSUES ADDRESSED

What issues/challenges does the example address?

At this point, the development of methodologies that can support a close connection between theoretical and practical domains are of global interest. In the field of disability and inclusion, such intent has been reflected in a wide range of efforts to put into practice processes of special needs assessment that coincide with context-sensitive perspectives of human functioning. In fact, parallel to the emphasis placed on inclusive education as a human right, there has been a move from ‘within-child’ perspectives of disability toward ones that acknowledge the environmental role in functioning and disabling processes (Florian at al, 2006; Simeonsson, 2006). The pragmatisation of this socio-ecological view requires the implementation of comprehensive assessments that support the description of students’ functioning profiles, documenting not only their responses to environmental demands, but also environmental responses to their needs (Simeonsson et al., 2008). Since its publication, the ICF-CY has been considered as a framework that reflects the evolutionary process from individually-oriented approaches towards socio-ecological perspectives, by considering:

  1. a conceptual component explicitly dedicated to the environmental role on disablement and functioning processes;
  2. reciprocal relationships between conceptual components; and
  3. a neutral and positive language defining different components (WHO, 2007).

Concretely, it provides a taxonomic structure that allows a multidimensional and inter-relational description of human functioning with reference to body functions and structures (BF), activities and participation (AP) and environmental factors (EF).

The reported experience embraces not only a methodological path for revising an assessment package of tools and procedures aligned with the ICF-CY framework, but also an approach to the collaborative relationship between consultants and consultees that enabled a transition of practices built on knowledge and on locally existing beliefs, resources and needs.

With regard to the methodological path, two guiding principles were considered in designing the revision process:

  1. the assessment of students’ needs and the description of their functioning profile demands an holistic approach;
  2. the gap between students’ capacities and environmental demands and/or between students’ needs and available supports is a key feature for defining IEPs’ goals and strategies.

Considering these principles, the contents of the existing toolkit used in Armenia, which was organised by age-groups, were scrutinised and adapted with reference to ICF-CY ‘developmental code sets’ (Ellingsen and Simeonsson, 2011) defining ‘what to assess’ in each age-group. Based on the defined assessment targets, the revision of the toolkit involved the development and selection of measures that meet the requirement for holistic and dynamic assessments – i.e. focused on the environmental impact on students’ performance. Following the assessment, the collected information was integrated into functioning profiles – describing the relationships between BF, AP and EF. These were addressed as the basis for the problem-solving reasoning underlying the IEP design.

Concerning the collaborative approach – and engrained in theories about diffusion of innovations (e.g. Greenhalgh et al., 2004; Wood et al., 1998) – the entire consultancy process was founded on the assumption that, as with any other innovation, the adoption/assimilation of a new praxis of assessment and intervention must be referenced and built upon adopters’ experiences and beliefs. Based on that, consultees’ experience was always valued, through the use of a scaffolding strategy focused on establishing a constant linkage between prior assessment knowledge and strategies and new assessment approaches. As such, the current Armenian practices (resources and needs) were always adopted as a starting point to outline, together with consultees, adaptations and changes to be introduced in the assessment toolkit and procedures. As Table 1 illustrates, such an approach entailed diverse actions, such as a systematic comparison between existing Armenian practices and state-of-the-art knowledge, the building of a common language and understanding of disability, and constant feedback about the work developed.

 

Implementation

How was the Initiative implemented?

The scaffolding support that the consultants provided to the MPPC team of experts was developed through on-site visits and the exchange of web-based communication. Implemented as an evolutionary process, the consultancy process encompassed six progressive and cumulative stages.

Stage 1: Document analysis: ‘How was Armenia located with regard to the state of the art and other international practices?’

Formal analysis of Armenian special education policies as well as a practical analysis of the existing assessment toolkit and procedures. A systematic comparison was made between existing policies, assessment toolkits and procedures in Armenia and state-of-the-art knowledge, considering different guiding questions, such as: what domains should be considered in the assessment; how the assessment should be carried out in terms of measuring and documenting assessment results; and how assessment findings should be used to develop the IEPs.

Stage 2: Workshop on ICF-CY and inclusion

Implementation of a two-day workshop with the aim of building a common knowledge base and language about inclusion, and uniform use of the ICF-CY framework and taxonomy.

Stage 3: Mapping the existing assessment toolkit onto the ICF-CY

Linkage of the existing set of tasks and measures used by the Armenian assessment teams into the ICF-CY framework, in order to:

  1. analyse the coverage of different ICF-CY components by the existing toolkit – with reference to age-group developmental code sets (Ellingson & Simeonsson, 2011);
  2. identify what it is missing as a target of assessment in the existing toolkit;
  3. identify the need to add or change the assessment measures to collect the required information.

Stage 4: Review of the literature about assessment tools and support in developing the new toolkit

Review of methods and tools for collecting data on uncovered assessment targets. Development of a protocol on ‘how to assess’, identifying what assessment tools to use, by whom and where. The assessment measures and procedures considered include: natural environments of participation; children’s interests, meaningful activities and opportunities; and current and maximum performance according to best support/assistance.

Stage 5: Case-study analysis

Experimental implementation of the new toolkit and assessment procedures through case studies. Analysis of the perceptions of the MPPC team of experts about the experiences arising from the use of the new assessment toolkit and procedures, considering:

  1. how the toolkit was implemented (e.g. approach, time consumed, difficulties);
  2. how data was summarised; and
  3. perceived strengths and weaknesses.

Stage 6: Guidance on translating the assessment results into functioning profiles to form the basis of IEP design

Demonstrations on how to integrate the collected information into dynamic functioning profiles, describing:

  1. disability processes – impairments, activity limitations and environmental barriers underpinning participation restrictions; and
  2. functioning processes – mapping environmental facilitators that support students’ participation.

The monitoring of the IEP development made use of guiding templates for translating assessment results into intervention goals and strategies (e.g. Adolfsson et al., 2010) and IEPs’ quality indicators (e.g. Revised Goals and Objectives Rating Instrument – R-GORI from Notari-Syverson and Shuster, 1995).

KEY OUTCOMES & IMPACT

What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

As outcomes, the consultancy process produced:

  • A revised package of tools and procedures for special educational needs assessment. The revised toolkit encompassed the adapted use of different reference tools – including, among others, the Supports Intensity Scale from the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (2003; 2012) and the Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment from Toni Linder (1993; 2008) – and the development of five questionnaires for parents and staff teams in educational settings. The toolkit was organised into three age-groups: 3 to 5, 6 to 12 and 13 to 17 years.
  • A procedures manual, designing the procedures and approach to be adopted in the assessment process.
  • A methodology for translating the assessment results into functioning profiles.
  • A proposed methodology for the design of IEPs based on students’ functioning profiles.

EVALUATION

Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

The development of the consultancy process was monitored through a continuous exchange between consultants and the MPPC team of experts, mediated by on-site missions and reciprocal exchange through virtual media. The impact of the consultancy was also examined through case-study analysis in on-site visits, comparing the range and nature of information obtained through the new toolkit and procedures with the previous one. Based on these information sources (case studies and the teams’ perceptions), the new toolkit and assessment procedures allowed the gathering of a wider spectrum of information and a comprehensive approach to students’ needs. The assessment results – obtained with the use of the new toolkit – enabled the description of functioning profiles that can be used for:

  1. eligibility determination;
  2. identifying relevant services and supports for students’ participation (inscribed in IEPs); and
  3. monitoring students’ progress.

The challenges and risk factors in implementing the new assessment toolkit and procedures were based on the complexity of the approach, demanding the development of specific knowledge and skills, and strict collaboration within assessment teams and with school staff.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS / SUSTAINABILITY

Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

As stated by Greenhalgh et al. (2004), in addition to the introduction of an innovation per se, its adoption depends on the establishment of efficient mechanisms of diffusion and sustainability, ensuring its implementation and routinisation. In other words, beyond the development of a new assessment toolkit that can improve students’ participation, the challenge was to disseminate the new set procedures and make them routine. Within the scope of the consultancy process, recommendations for diffusion and sustainability of the new assessment approach were outlined, including:

  1. implementation of knowledge dissemination strategies – e.g. training programmes for professionals involved in different assessment levels; creating ‘sharing stations’ of materials and difficulties-based problem-solving strategies;
  2. implementation of monitoring procedures on the practical use of the toolkit and assessment procedures; and
  3. creating consistent communication mechanisms within and among different assessment teams, and among school staff and regional assessment teams.

LEARNING POINTS

What are the main learning points?

At a time when several countries are focusing efforts on implementing a context-sensitive approach to support provision for young people with disabilities, this project developed a generalisable model for the revision of assessment practices, through the use of the ICF-CY. Lessons learnt from this experience point to:

  1. the importance of a change build-up in a scaffolding process, strongly connected with existing needs, resources and professionals’ beliefs; and
  2. the suitability of the proposed methodology, based on the ICF-CY framework, to guide the process of revising assessment toolkits.

Materials

Are there further information about supporting materials?

Sanches-Ferreira, M., Simeonsson, R., Silveira-Maia, M. and Alves, S., 2014. Systems and policy environments in child health and education: Portugal and Armenia experiences in ICF-CY in educational context. Summer Institute – Global Education and Developmental Studies (GEDS) Transatlantic Consortium, Porto

Sanches-Ferreira, M., Silveira-Maia, M. and Alves, S., 2015. The ICF-CY in educational context: the revision process of the assessment toolkit and procedures in Armenia. UNICEF meeting: Regional inclusive education teacher preparation workshop, Zurich

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Manuela Sanches-Ferreira: Full Professor in the Department of Special Education and Inclusion, School of Education of Porto Polytechnic Institute (main contact)

Mónica Silveira-Maia, Silvia Alves: School of Education of Porto Polytechnic, Porto, Portugal

Rune Simeonsson: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

Varduhy Katinyan, Viktoria Yesayan, Haykuhi Adamyan, Lilit Grigoryn: Yerevan Medical-Psychological-Pedagogical Assessment Centre for Children

Hasmik Ghukasyan,·Bridge of Hope NGO, Armenia (Project Manager of Open Society Foundations London Early Childhood Programme-funded project, ‘Bridging Gaps Between Special and Mainstream Education’)

Ala Galstyan: Yerevan State University

Armenuhi Avagyan: Special Education Faculty of Armenian State Pedagogical University

Meri Poghosyan: UNICEF-Armenia

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