Actionable intelligence.
Subject: Blind (Care and treatment)
Blind (Civil rights)
Intelligence gathering (Political aspects)
Educational organizations (Services)
Educational organizations (Standards)
Author: McMahon, Eugene
Pub Date: 11/01/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness Publisher: American Foundation for the Blind Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American Foundation for the Blind ISSN: 0145-482X
Issue: Date: Nov, 2010 Source Volume: 104 Source Issue: 11
Topic: Event Code: 360 Services information; 350 Product standards, safety, & recalls
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 242296067
Full Text: Newspaper articles on the war on terrorism often use the term "actionable intelligence." What is meant by this phrase is information sufficient to allow the government to take some action for the protection of the American people. When we consider the education of children with blindness and visual impairment, there is a long-term absence of actionable intelligence. That is, information that will cause those of us in the blindness field to change instructional strategies, program offerings, funding priorities, professional development, and the like. Given the dearth of actionable intelligence, professionals are often left relying only on their past experiences and clinical judgments.

Although issues like inadequate funding are often cited to explain the lack of actionable intelligence in the field, the two factors that pose the greatest challenges are the low incidence of visual impairments and the diversity of learning characteristics within the category of visual impairment.

In 2008, schools belonging to the Council of Schools for the Blind (COSB) made a long-term commitment to collect outcome data on graduates of their schools. At the time I had retired as executive director of the New York Institute for Special Education, and I was contracted to design a data collection infrastructure to gather information on the experiences of students during their time at school and information about their lives after graduation.

The Base Data Set comprises information about the students' school years. It is divided into four categories:

* student demographics,

* student program activities,

* exit outcomes, and

* exit satisfaction.

Information about what is happening in students' lives after graduation is divided into five categories. The Post-Graduation Data Set includes

* employment,

* post-secondary education,

* family and leisure activities,

* independence, and

* satisfaction.

Due to the incredible commitment of COSB superintendents, a large sample has been collected so far and will only increase as more data is added each year. Up to this point, there have been two rounds of data collection covering graduates from 2007, 2008, and 2009. Although not all schools participate each year, a total of 27 of the 42 COSB schools have submitted data at least once. The Base Data Set contains comprehensive information on 555 students. The Post-Graduation Data Set currently contains 246 students.

The project is designed so that each individual student is a unit of measurement. As such, outcome data can be disaggregated by any of the other variables in order to arrive at meaningful "apple to apple" comparisons. For instance, you could look at the variable "Reading Level" at the time of graduation and then break that down to compare students with secondary disabilities compared to those without secondary disabilities. Or you could compare totally blind students to those with residual vision. You could also compare braille readers to those who read large print or to those who use low vision devices to access print.

This design allows for meaningful comparisons. In designing the infrastructure in this way, analysis can account for the diversity within the population and compare students with similar learning characteristics. Such comparisons might then result in professionals making meaningful, generalizeable changes to interventions.

The second challenge to arriving at actionable intelligence is sample size. Looking through research articles concerning the education of children with visual impairments, you will find extremely small sample sizes. Often the samples of such research articles are too small to cause professionals to change their practices, although the reported research may have the capability of stimulating such professionals to come up with new ideas for working with their students.

Although it is envisioned by the COSB superintendents that the outcomes data being collected will eventually be used for many different purposes including scholarly research, the first purpose of the project is to give superintendents the ability to compare inputs and outcomes of their students to students with similar learning characteristics across the other COSB schools. To this purpose, superintendents are given a data file that they can use for their own research and discover the information that is most relevant to their program-improvement efforts.

Three sample reports were prepared to demonstrate to the superintendents how the data could be used. These reports will soon be available for viewing on the COSB web site: .

From a scientific standpoint, there are many limitations to this data collection process and caution must be used to not over-interpret findings. The project will continue to evolve over time and procedures will be improved as we go forward. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments.

"COSB Commentary," which will appear several times in the journal in 2010, offers information provided by the Council of Schools for the Blind (COSB) of interest to readers of JVIB and is part of COSB's generous sponsorship of the journal.

Eugene McMahon, Ed.D., principal, Limitless Vision Consulting, 310 Holt Drive, Pearl River, NY 10965; e-mail: .
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.