General education teachers' ratings of the academic engagement level of students who read braille: a comparison with sighted peers.
Academic achievement (Comparative analysis)
Disabled students (Research)
Bardin, Julie A.
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness Publisher: American Foundation for the Blind Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American Foundation for the Blind ISSN: 0145-482X|
|Issue:||Date: August, 2011 Source Volume: 105 Source Issue: 8|
|Topic:||Event Code: 310 Science & research|
Abstract: English and language arts teachers of braille-reading
students in general education classes rated these students'
academic engagement and the academic achievement of low- and
average-achieving sighted students in the same classrooms. The braille
readers were found to be statistically similar to the low-achieving
students with regard to effort, self-determination, and inattention.
Although researchers on special education were previously concerned primarily with students' access to general education schools and classrooms, they are now focusing greater attention on the access of students with disabilities to the educational curriculum (Soukup, Wehmeyer, Bashinski, & Bovaird, 2007). The provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) are largely responsible for this shift in focus because they require that the gap in academic achievement between high- and low-performing students be closed. To achieve this result mandated by NCLB, the educational progress of all students, including students with disabilities, requires educators to identify strategies that will increase students' engagement with the academic curriculum.
Academic engagement is a multifaceted construct, the definition of which has evolved over time. Originally, it was defined as "on-task" behavior (Brophy, 1983; Fisher et al., 1978; Friedman, Cancelli, & Yoshida, 1988; Leach & Dolan, 1985). As early as 1984, Natriello expanded the definition of on task and reported that students were engaged when they were participating in school activities. This definition implied that students could also demonstrate negative indicators of engagement by skipping class, cheating on assignments or examinations, and damaging school property.
Newer definitions of engagement are often behavioral in nature, in that they identify specific behaviors or activities of interest. According to Martella, Nelson, and Marchand-Martella (2003), academic engagement is the amount of time that students are actively participating in teacher-assigned learning activities. Greenwood, Horton, and Utley (2002) also provided a behavioral definition of academic engagement, describing it as being a composite of specific classroom behaviors, including writing, participating in tasks, reading aloud, reading silently, talking about academics, and asking and answering questions.
Shonk and Cicchetti (2001) described engagement as having two components: an intrinsic need to be engaged and an extrinsic regulation of engagement. The intrinsic need can be in the form of students' motivation, preference for challenging tasks, and desire to succeed. When students are relying on extrinsic regulation of academic engagement, they are often working for rewards or to avoid punishment and are dependent on directions from peers or teachers (Shonk & Cicchetti, 2001). Intrinsic drives are more difficult to define, measure, and observe than are extrinsic ones. This approach to engagement takes the focus away from either being engaged or nonengaged and considers how and why students engage.
INDICATORS AND INFLUENCES
In their review of the literature, Greenwood et al. (2002) identified three classes of behaviors by students that indicate whether students are or are not engaged: academic responding, task management, and inappropriate behaviors. Obviously, inappropriate behaviors, such as being disruptive or looking around, lead to lower levels of engagement, whereas academic responding is associated with higher levels of engagement. Task management activities, activities that prepare a student to respond, are typically considered positive indicators of engagement, but if prolonged, can also be a negative influence.
A variety of tools and strategies have been used to measure the amount and quality of students' academic engagement. These tools usually incorporate items that attempt to assess the direct indicators of such engagement, as well as the factors that have been found to influence engagement. As a result, the tools and protocols that are used to measure engagement range in complexity and specificity. Self-report measures submitted by students, checklists completed by instructional staff and parents, and observations recorded by researchers have all been used for this purpose, as have combinations of these and other measures.
In many studies of engagement, researchers have identified groups of students and compared them to one another. Frederick's (1977) original study established that high-achieving students were academically engaged approximately 75% of the time, whereas their low-achieving peers were engaged just over half the time. Many later studies compared groups of students whose academic performance was known (high, average, and low achieving or some combination of these categories) with the population of interest (Kastner, Gottlieb, Gottlieb, & Kastner, 1995; Parker, Gottlieb, Gottlieb, Davis, & Kunzweiller, 1989; Slate & Saudargas, 1987; Thompson, White, & Morgan, 1982; Wallace, Anderson, Bartholomay, & Hupp, 2002). This approach controls in part for the ecological and teacher variables that can influence students' engagement.
Academic engagement of students with visual impairments
A review of the literature revealed limited information specifically on the engagement of students with visual impairments. Fernandez-Vivo (2002) demonstrated that peer tutoring increased the academic learning time (one measure of engagement) in the physical education classes of three students in Grades 1-3 who were legally blind, and compared the engagement of these students to that of three high- and three low-skilled sighted students in the same class. During the baseline period, the students with visual impairments demonstrated levels of engagement that were similar to those of the low-skilled students; after the intervention, they performed more like the high-skilled students.
Bardin and Lewis (2008) used an online survey to gather information from general educators on the academic engagement levels of students with visual impairments who were enrolled in the general educators' language arts classes. They determined that there was no statistical difference between the engagement levels of students with visual impairments who used braille and those who used print (regular or large type). Although they did not compare the engagement levels of students with visual impairments with those of sighted students, they noted that the teachers reported the mean level of engagement on three of the areas that were explored (effort, initiative, and self-determination) as being between "half the time" and "most of the time." Two scores, related to inattention and disruptive behavior, fell in the range between "half the time" and "rarely," meaning that these teachers ranked the students with visual impairments in their classes as more attentive and less disruptive than the other students. The mean score for the motivation subscale was 2.08, indicating that the students who were visually impaired demonstrated behaviors that reflected motivation "half the time."
Many of the variables that influence students' achievement have been identified in the literature as areas with which students with visual impairments struggle, including personal competence (Shapiro, Moffett, Lieberman, & Dummer, 2005), motivation (Kozub, 2006), and relationships with peers (Caballo & Verdugo, 2007; Peavey & Left, 2002). In addition, since students with visual impairments often require special support services that cannot be provided by general educators, it is likely that their relationships with general educators may not be as close as is necessary to support increased engagement in the general education curriculum. That students' performance on these variables is at risk implies that the academic engagement of these students, and therefore their achievement, are at risk.
Outcome measures for students with visual impairments
The findings of studies have confirmed that youths and adults with visual impairments continue to have difficulty achieving positive postschool outcomes. Shaw, Gold, and Wolffe (2007) surveyed Canadian youths and adults and found that those with low vision were more likely to be employed for pay than were those who were blind; still, only 29% of the 15 to 30-year-old participants with visual impairments indicated that they were currently employed. These discouraging results are similar to those in the report by the American Foundation for the Blind (2006) that in the United States, only 32% of individuals aged 18-69 who are legally blind are employed.
There is also some evidence that students with visual impairments may experience lower achievement than do their sighted peers while in school. In one study, 15.2% fewer students with visual impairments scored at state-defined levels of proficiency or higher in reading, and nearly 20% of the test-taking students with visual impairments scored lower than sighted students in mathematics (National Center for Low Incidence Disabilities, NCLID, 2004).
On the basis of our review of the literature, we were interested in determining if general educators would rate their braille-reading students differently from low- and average-achieving students on the Modified Student Participation Questionnaire (MSPQ), and, if so, if differences exist in the teachers' ratings of these two groups of students on the MPSQ subscales (effort, self-determination, motivation, initiative, inattentive behaviors, and disruptive behaviors). The study reported here was approved by the institutional review board at Florida State University, where the second author is employed, and the commitment to protect the human subjects participating in the study was honored throughout the data collection, analysis, and reporting of results.
Because of the small, diverse population of children with visual impairments, a relatively small sample was used in the study--45 students (15 who were visually impaired and 30 who were sighted). To recruit the participants, we contacted school districts on lists from state instructional materials centers and departments of education that indicated that they ordered braille materials for students. We also announced the study in newsletters, at presentations, and on electronic bulletin boards for individuals who are involved in the education of children with visual impairments.
Following the receipt of approval from each school board, we contacted the local coordinators of programs for students with visual impairments. These contacts forwarded the permission forms to the parents of students who used braille in general education classes who met the criteria for participation. Once permission was received from the parent or guardian of the child with a visual impairment, permission forms were sent home to the parents of all the classmates in the same language arts or English classes. Permission was also obtained from the classroom teacher.
The informants for this study were 15 general education teachers of reading or language arts in whose class a student who accessed learning materials using braille was enrolled. The 9 female and 6 male teacher-informants were employed in rural (n = 9), suburban (n = 2), and urban (n = 4) school districts in four southeastern states. Most of the teachers reported their ethnicity as white; 2 were African American and 2 were Hispanic.
These teachers reported having 1-19 years of teaching experience (mean = 8, SD = 5.4). They taught English, literature, or language arts in grades 3-12 in classes that ranged in size from 18 to 31 students (mean = 23.87), with a schoolwide enrollment of exceptional education students of between 1% and 21.7%; two of the teachers characterized their classes as including only gifted students.
Although most of the teachers (n = 9) indicated that the student with a visual impairment who was currently in their class was the first braille reader they had ever taught, some teachers had taught other students with visual impairments, including 1 teacher who reported teaching 3 other students with visual impairments during her 12-year career (see Table 1 for more data).
Students with visual impairments and their sighted peers
The students with visual impairments for whom data on participation were collected used braille as their only mode of reading, had no other disabilities, and were identified by the teacher of students with visual impairments as performing at grade level. English was reported as the primary language of all the participating students. Data were collected on two sighted classmates of each student who was visually impaired. These peers were selected from a roster of students in the class who had permission from their parents to be included in the study. For each child who was listed, this roster included information about the child's gender, presence of a diagnosed disability, and primary language and the teacher's rating of the student's level of achievement. Options for rating students were high achieving (top 25% of the class), average achieving (middle 50% of the class), or low achieving (bottom 25% of the class). As similar studies recommended, the researcher (first author) selected a low-achieving and an average-achieving peer whose gender and race or ethnicity were similar to those of the student who was visually impaired. The selected low-achieving and average-achieving peers who were identified by the general education teacher spoke English as their primary language and had no identified disabilities.
As a result of this selection process, 15 triads were formed of students who were matched on grade, primary language, and absence of a disability other than visual impairment. The student triads were in elementary (n = 4), middle (n = 6), and high (n = 5) schools. Six of the triads were composed of boys, and 9 were composed of girls. The students who were identified as Caucasian were represented in 11 triads. Hispanic and black students were each represented in 2 triads.
The MSPQ (Bardin, 2006) was used to identify the participation levels of the 45 students who participated in the study. Each teacher was given three copies of the questionnaire (see Figure 1), each copy marked with the name of one of the students in the triad from that classroom.
The Student Participation Questionnaire (SPQ) was developed by Finn, Pannozzo, and Voelkl (1995) to measure the behavior of students in five areas related to their academic engagement: effort, initiative, motivation, disruptive behavior, and inattentive behavior. Teachers are asked to rate the frequency of specific behaviors of students that have occurred over the past 2-3 months on 29 items using a 5-point scale (never = 1, sometimes = 3, and always = 5. Although not available for the motivation subscale, coefficient alphas for the other four scales reported by Finn et al. were .93 (effort), .89 (initiative), .90 (disruptive behavior), and .75 (inattentive behavior). Finn et al. granted permission for this instrument to be used by interested researchers.
Bardin (2006) used all the items on the SPQ and modified it by further defining the 1-5 rating scale (to never = 1, rarely = 2, half of the time : 3, most of the time = 4, and always = 5) and adding a self-determination scale that was designed to gather data related to the kinds of challenges reported in the literature that students who are visually impaired in general education classrooms experience. The items included queries regarding a student's ability to (1) obtain materials independently, (2) organize the workspace, (3) explain his or her needs in an appropriate manner to teachers and peers, (4) request assistance appropriately, (5) initiate play or social interactions with peers, and (6) use equipment independently. These 6 items mirrored those in the evaluation component of Loumiet and Levack's (1993) curriculum on social competence for students with visual impairments and encompassed the elements of self-determined behavior that lead to control and self-awareness, such as making choices and decisions, solving problems, managing one' s self and belongings, and advocating for one's needs (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998). No measures of internal consistency of the items on this subtest have been derived.
Two research assistants verified the data entry of the rankings and rating on the MSPQ. In the event of a discrepancy, the original data collection survey was evaluated, and the error was corrected. The analysis covered two research questions:
1. Will students who read braille be rated differently by their teachers on the MSPQ than their low- and average-achieving peers?
2. How will teachers rate students who read braille in comparison to their low- and average-achieving peers on the individual subscales (effort, self-determination, motivation, initiative, inattentive behaviors, disruptive behaviors) of the MSPQ?
The first question, for which no order was predicted, required a multiple comparison analysis to determine differences among the three groups. To analyze differences among performance on each of the subscales, data from the student triads were blocked into classroom groups, and the information was ranked from least to greatest within each classroom block. For each of the subscales, Page's distribution free test for ordered alternatives was used to test the hypothesis that BR < LA < AA for each subscale (that is, average-achieving students would be scored higher than low-achieving students and braille-reading students would be ranked lowest by their teachers). The researcher rejected the null hypothesis if L [greater than or equal to] [1.sub.[alpha]] = 190. When differences were evident, the Friedman analysis of variance test was applied to test for significance. For all the tests, the alpha value was set at .05.
As is evident when reviewing the total SPQ pairwise comparisons found in Table 2, the braille-reading students were rated by their teachers similarly to the low-achieving students, but they scored differently from the average-achieving students, who scored differently from the low-achieving students. These findings indicate that there were differences among the three groups on the total questionnaire. Given that differences were detected on the total scale, each subscale was analyzed further to explore the source of the variation.
Page's distribution-free test for ordered alternatives is used to identify the rank order that occurs among groups of interest. It tests for the equality of groups, but does not identify if differences among the groups are statistically significant. Using this test, we found that all three groups were equal on the motivation and disruptive behavior scales. However, the average-achieving group was superior to the other two groups on the effort, self-determination, and initiative subscales and was ranked the lowest on the inattentive subscale (that is, they were ranked as the most attentive). The low-achieving group demonstrated the lowest initiative of the three groups (see Table 3).
The braille-reading students demonstrated the lowest levels of effort and self-determination. Their teachers rated them as behaving between the average-achieving and low-achieving groups on the demonstration of initiative and as demonstrating the highest levels of inattention. To determine if the differences in rankings among the groups were significant, we used Friedman's test of analysis of variance. These findings are presented in Table 3 for the four subscales on which differences were previously identified. The average-achieving group differed significantly on all subscales from the low-achieving group and differed significantly from the braille-reading group on all but the initiative subscale. The scores for the braille-reading students were statistically different from those of the low-achieving students only on the initiative subscale; on the effort, self-determination, and inattention subscales, these students were ranked by their teachers as performing similarly to the low-achieving students.
The purpose of the study was to collect information on general educators' rankings of the level of academic engagement of braille-reading students in their language arts classes and to compare these levels to those exhibited by the students' sighted peers. Academic engagement is of interest because it has been identified as an indicator of academic success for many populations of students. No research has been conducted on the participation of students with visual impairments in the core curriculum, even though some outcome measures (scores on achievement tests, employment statistics, and the completion of postsecondary education) for students with visual impairments are poor compared to those of sighted students (Florida Department of Education, 2004; NCLID, 2004; U.S. Census Bureau, 1997; Wagner, Blackorby, & Hebbler, 1993; Wagner, D'Amico, Marder, Newman, & Blackorby, 1992; Wolffe, 1998).
According to the results just described, these language arts teachers rated the students with visual impairments in their classes as being engaged at levels similar to those of their sighted low-achieving peers. Only in the area of initiative were these students ranked significantly higher than the low-achieving students. These findings support the results described by Bardin and Lewis (2008), who, after surveying a volunteer group of general educators using the MSPQ to rate students with visual impairments (both students with low vision and students who were blind), found that the mean scores on all but one of the subscales fell in the range between "half the time" and "most of the time." Although Bardin and Lewis reported a higher level of engagement reflected on the inattentive behavior subscale, in the current study, the students who were visually impaired were rated as being more inattentive than their sighted peers. A more positive difference in these studies is that while Bardin and Lewis reported a somewhat low level of motivation for the students with visual impairments, the results reported here reflect motivation levels that were equal to those of both the low- and average-achieving sighted students in the classes that were surveyed.
That students with visual impairments have had the highest rate of postsecondary participation among students with disabilities (Wagner et al., 1992) may suggest that these students are highly engaged in the K-12 curriculum. However, the comparatively low rate of completion of postsecondary education (Wagner et al., 1992), coupled with the NCLID (2004) data supporting low levels of proficiency on state-mandated reading and mathematics tests, implies otherwise.
When the factors that influence engagement are considered, hypotheses that explain these low levels of engagement begin to emerge. Researchers have reported that students with visual impairments struggle with personal competence, motivation, self-determination, and relationships with peers (Caballo & Verdugo, 2007; Kozub, 2006; Peavey & Leff, 2002; Shapiro et al., 2005). Yet, these are the very areas that have been identified as positively influencing engagement. It behooves teachers of students with visual impairments and their families to focus on the development of these skills and attitudes.
Early development of these skills and attitudes is important. Finn and Cox (1992) demonstrated that the level of participation of students without disabilities in the first grade persisted through the third grade. They suggested that aggressive intervention is needed to prevent the harmful effects of low participation and withdrawal. Shonk and Cicchetti (2001) distinguished an extrinsic and intrinsic component of engagement. It is possible that the regulation of academic engagement of students who are visually impaired relies too heavily on extrinsic factors, which lead, according to Walker, Greene, and Mansell (2006), to "shallow cognitive engagement." Meaningful engagement, on the other hand, was predicted by intrinsic motivation, identification with academics, and self-efficacy.
It is encouraging that there is a body of literature that demonstrates that academic engagement can be increased through intervention. Teachers of students with visual impairments and parents of children who are blind or have low vision can emphasize self-determination and making choices with their students. Given the strong correlations between the relationship of general educators and their students (Anderson, Christenson, Sinclair, & Lehr, 2004), a focus on building these relationships seems worthwhile. Teachers of students with visual impairments can make ecological changes to their classrooms that lead to increases in students' independent behavior. In addition, they can assist general educators to feel more confident and comfortable in including students who are visually impaired in their classrooms. Close collaboration may be necessary to identify the ways in which general educators can be responsible for motivating students with visual impairments to learn, holding the students accountable for work, encouraging the students' autonomy, supporting risk taking, encouraging creativity, and interacting in a gentle and caring manner to make deep and lasting connections (Dolezal, Welsh, Pressley, & Vincent, 2003).
The study was confined to general educators' comparisons of braille-reading students who participated in general education language arts or English classes with their sighted peers. We do not know if these ratings are accurate. As with most studies involving this low-prevalence and highly diverse population, the purposive sampling procedures in the study decreased the generalizability of the findings. In addition, braille-reading students who participate in general education language arts classes are a small, unique group, and the students in this sample ranged from the 3rd through the 12th grade. These findings are not generalizable to all groups of students with visual impairments or to subject areas beyond language arts. Still, they raise interesting questions about the true engagement of students who typically do well academically, but frequently have poor postschool outcomes.
With the guidelines of NCLB encouraging further immersion in the general education curriculum and mandating standards-based assessment, teachers need information to ensure positive student outcomes, which are strongly related to academic engagement with the curriculum. The findings of our study suggest that braille readers may not be engaged at levels that promote high academic achievement. Although further studies are necessary to confirm these results with a larger and more geographically dispersed sample and to identify if the factors that influence the engagement of students without disabilities apply to students who are visually impaired, teachers of students with visual impairments, parents, and general educators will likely find value in working to improve the classroom and the characteristics of teachers that are known to lead to greater engagement and, at the same time, increasing the student variables that result in improved self-efficacy.
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Julie A. Bardin, Ph.D., teacher of students with visual impairments, Wake County Public School System; mailing address: 5908 Allsdale Drive, Raleigh, NC 27617; e-mail:
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Table 1 Characteristics of participating teachers, classes, and school (school data from 2004-2005 school year). Race or ethnicity Teacher of Class Grade gender teacher 1 3 F H 2 12 M H 3 6 M C 4 7 M C 5 12 M C 6 4 F C 7 3 F C 8 4 M C 9 4 F C 10 8 F C 11 6 F B 12 10 F C 13 12 F B 14 6 F C 15 11 M C Students in class School Class Class title (number) setting 1 Elementary language arts 22 Rural 2 Senior English 18 Suburban 3 Gifted sixth-grade language arts 26 Suburban 4 Seventh-grade language arts 21 Urban 5 Senior English 22 Urban 6 Fourth-grade language arts 26 Rural 7 Third-grade language arts 31 Rural 8 Fourth-grade language arts 27 Rural 9 Fourth-grade language arts 20 Urban 10 Literature 19 Rural 11 Sixth-grade language arts 22 Urban 12 Sophomore English 22 Rural 13 Honors senior English 19 Rural 14 Sixth-grade language arts 18 Rural 15 Junior English 24 Rural Free and reduced Teacher lunch Students Total experience Class (%) in ESE (%) enrollment (years) 1 54.0 21.7 761 2 2 38.0 12.8 2954 10 3 32.0 9.8 1499 6 4 100.0 4.8 600 12 5 11.0 7.2 2500 19 6 42.0 1.0 497 5 7 21.0 2.0 538 1 8 41.0 2.0 1612 4 9 69.9 N/A 419 8 10 74.1 N/A 414 3 11 15.0 8.0 1198 9 12 39.0 5.4 935 7 13 32.0 5.9 635 17 14 66.0 3.2 776 5 15 21.0 9.5 764 12 Students with visual impairments taught by general education teacher Class (number) 1 1 2 4 3 1 4 3 5 2 6 1 7 1 8 1 (a) 9 1 10 1 11 2 12 1 13 2 14 1 15 3 (a) The teacher had taught the same student in the previous year. Table 2 Significance of pairwise comparisons of group performance on the MSPQ. AA AA LA versus versus versus Subscale LA BR BR Total SPQ Yes Yes No Effort Yes Yes No Self-determination Yes Yes No Initiative Yes No Yes Inattention Yes Yes No Note: AA = average achieving; LA = low achieving; and BR = braille reading. Table 3 Rankings of groups on the MSPQ. p-value from Friedman's Highest Middle Lowest Subscale test ranking ranking ranking Effort * .015 AA LA BR Self-determination * .003 AA LA BR Motivation .066 Equal Equal Equal Initiative * .001 AA BR LA Inattentive * .001 BR LA AA Disruptive .057 Equal Equal Equal Note: AA = average achieving; LA = low achieving; and BR = braille reading. * Differences were determined to be significant with p [less than or equal to] .05. Figure 1. Modified Student Participation Questionnaire. CONSIDER THE STUDENTS BEHAVIORS OVER THE PAST 2-3 MONTHS. HOW OFTEN DOES THIS STUDENT.... Effort Scale Never Rarely Half of Most of Always the time the time 1 2 3 4 5 Pay attention in class Complete homework on time Work well with other children Complete assigned seatwork Be persistent when confronted with difficult problems Approach new assignments even when the are difficult Prefer to do easy problems rather than hard ones Try to finish assignments even when the are difficult Get discouraged and stop trying when encountering obstacles in school work Inattentive Behavior Never Rarely Half of Most of Always Scale the time the time 1 2 3 4 5 Lose, forget or misplace materials Come late to class Not seem to know what is going on in class Appear withdrawn or incommunicative Not take independent initiative and must be helped to get started working and/ or kept working Motivation Scale Never Rarely Half of Most of Always the time the time 1 2 3 4 5 Think that school is important Be critical of peers who do well in school Criticize the importance of subject matter Attend other school activities such as athletic contests, carnivals, fundraisers Initiative Scale Never Rarely Half of Most of Always the time the time 1 2 3 4 5 Attempt to do work thoroughly and well rather than just trying to get by Do more than the assigned work Ask questions to get more information Raise hand to answer a question volunteer information Go to a dictionary, encyclopedia or other reference source on own Engage teacher in conversation about subject matter, before or after school. or outside of class Participate actively in class discussions Disruptive Behavior Never Rarely Half of Most of Always Scale the time the time 1 2 3 4 5 Act restless, have difficulty sitting still Need to be reprimanded Annoy or interfere with peers' work Talk with classmates too much Self-Determination Never Rarely Half of Most of Always Scale the time the time 1 2 3 4 5 Obtain materials independently Organize own workspace Explain needs in an appropriate manner to teachers/ peers Request assistance appropriately Initiate play or social interactions with peers Independently utilize adaptive equipment
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