Increasing Recognition and Use of Interveners and Teachers of Students Who Are Deafblind: Texas
In Texas, significant efforts have been made to recognize, train, and support qualified personnel for children who are deafblind. This began in the 1990s, when the Texas Deafblind Project developed definitions and processes related to interveners, and continues to this day.
This article describes a range of successful activities and initiatives related to interveners and teachers of students who are deafblind (TDBs) that have taken place in Texas over the past two decades, culminating in a major achievement when Texas joined Utah and Illinois, becoming the third state to recognize TDBs.
A key to the success of the qualified personnel activities led by the Texas Deafblind Project has been the involvement of multiple stakeholders, including families at every level. In 2004, the project began a two-year family leadership training program for families of children who are blind and deafblind and, historically, family input has been used to guide state project activities.
In 2017, the project began advocacy efforts to develop a state plan for students who are deafblind. Using the proposed Cogswell-Macy Act, they argued that Texas needed to prepare for changes that would come when the act passed. A stakeholder group created for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) that included families, university faculty, teachers, local district personnel, and adults and students who are deaf, blind, and deafblind came together to develop the Texas State Plan for Students with Deafblindness. The plan recognized the need for designated interveners and TDBs at all levels.
In its 2008 application for federal funding, the Texas Deafblind Project included plans to provide training to educators that would make it possible for students to be placed in less restrictive environments. Between 2000-2008, the project worked with each of the state’s 20 regional Education Service Centers to train and support deafblind specialists. Work related to interveners was also a high priority. Although the idea of certified TDBs was not being discussed at the state level, the Texas project created goals to increase the availability of qualified teachers.
Teachers of Students Who Are Deafblind
Exploration and Building Partnerships: 2009-2017
Initially, a small group of teachers who had received extensive technical assistance from the Texas Deafblind Project and who had taken coursework in deafblindness at Texas Tech University (TTU) were selected to serve as mentors and provide in-person support for new teachers taking TTU coursework. Unfortunately, these efforts proved difficult to sustain due to low numbers of mentees and very long travel times for face-to-face support.
In 2011, the project began a TDB Pilot Program with district administrators’ support. It began by identifying 20 teachers already working with students who were deafblind and providing them with intensive training on deafblind strategies over two years. Video conferencing, onsite consultations, mentoring, and a website specific to the pilot were created. As part of the pilot program,
- Project staff worked with TTU to recruit students to the university’s deafblind program
- Project staff began using the TDB title when referring to teachers with specific training in deafblind educational practices (over time, others began to use the title as well)
- The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired became a model site for training teachers in the use of deafblind educational practices
- Incentives were provided for participants to take coursework in deafblindness at TTU, including tuition support via a grant from the TEA
Since 2011, the number of teachers participating in deafblind coursework has steadily increased with annual enrollment typically exceeding 30 participants.
Partnerships with education service centers, LEAs, and the TEA were a vital part of the pilot project. Despite increased acceptance of the TDB role in several areas of the state, it took several years before there was movement toward official recognition from the state department of education. However, the pilot program played a major role in raising awareness of TDBs at the state level and led to collaboration among relevant state entities on the development of state standards for TDBs.
TDB Standards and Certification: 2018-present
In a periodic review of TEA Commissioner rules, the TEA project director found the TDB role had already been written in a list of recognized credentials but without associated standards. During an update of the rules, the Texas Deafblind Project, families, and parent organizations worked together to successfully advocate for keeping TDBs in the rules and regulations.
To discern what would be necessary to develop teacher standards, the project worked collaboratively with stakeholders including TTU faculty who were familiar with the rules and regulations that govern their programs and teacher certification. During this time, the State Board for Educator Certification was updating standards for special education teachers. TEA asked to participate in a meeting with the project to better understand project activities related to TDBs and subsequently supported the role.
A collaborative group, including individuals from TEA, TTU, the state project, and other stakeholders, created the TDB standards. In 2020, Texas adopted the standards as a first step to establishing state certification. The TDB certification is a supplemental certification available to professionals who hold certification in a related sensory area (low vision/blindness or deaf/hard of hearing). Candidates will be required to complete graduate-level deafblind coursework through TTU or Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) and pass the required state-administered certification test once it is in place.
Using a grassroots approach by collaborating with families, universities, NCDB, and the state deafblind project, the TEA is currently creating a certification test for TDBs, aligning university coursework and guiding local education agencies (LEAs) on TDB roles, efficacy, and funding for the position.
In Texas, paraprofessionals are primarily regulated at the local level. The TEA acknowledged the intervener role by posting information on their website but has not developed a state mandate or career ladder.
Providing training and support for interveners has been a key activity for the Texas Deafblind Project for many years.
- In 2000, project staff worked with the National Technical Assistance Consortium for Children and Young Adults Who Are Deaf-Blind to develop a briefing paper that proposed standards for intervener training and implementation of the intervener model.
- In 2011-2012, project staff participated in the development of NCDB’s Intervener Services Recommendations, designed to improve national, state, and local intervener services.
- At different points in time, project staff worked with the National Resource Center for Paraeducators to develop the National Intervener Credential and with NCDB and the Paraprofessional Resource and Research Center on the National Intervener Certification E-Portfolio.
- Over the past decade, project staff have worked to establish a way for individuals to acquire college credit for intervener training in Texas.