Northeastern Section - 56th Annual Meeting - 2021

Paper No. 14-2
Presentation Time: 8:25 AM


BREWER-LAPORTA, Margaret, Department of Special Education, Monroe Woodbury High School, 155 Dunderberg Road, Central Valley, NY 10917; Department of Chemistry and Physical Sciences, Pace University, 861 Bedford Road, Pleasantville, NY 10570

High school/college science students are expected to show competency in the reading of graphs and charts. Displaying such competency is problematic for students with visual processing disabilities. Visual processing difficulties are not eyesight problems; they are struggles in the cognitive processing of visual stimuli, and/or difficulties with neuron interactions within the brain. Visual processing disabilities are likely to impact a student’s ability to process features, e.g., edges, lines, angles and movements. Students with visual processing difficulties cannot access this part of the science curriculum with the same equity as their non-disabled peers.

Impediments in processing speed place an extra load on working memory, which typically has a retainment time of seconds. Interference with working memory will negatively impact a student’s ability to remember all the components of a visually-loaded prompt, and thus lower the student’s success in using visually accessed data to correctly solve problems. A common practice during high-stakes science exams is the expectation that students bring together data from two or three different graphs/charts to correctly solve a complex problem. If visual processing difficulties impede working memory when only one graph is examined, the problem is exacerbated when increasing the number of visual prompts to the task.

Equitable mitigation of visual processing disabilities is not achieved by making the science curriculum less rigorous; but by recognizing the increased cognitive load and altering prompts (i.e. visual chunking, increasing the size of graphs, increasing font within graphs, increasing visual contrast) to reduce visual processing time and increase retention of visually attained information. Consideration must be given, especially during high-stakes testing, as to the intent of the questions at hand. If the intent is to test a student’s knowledge of the curriculum and concepts therein, that can be done by reducing the visual load of test prompts.