The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997 (IDEA ’97) envisioned schools where students with disabilities were given access to the general curriculum through accommodations and assistive technologies. The reauthorization of IDEA in 2004 continues to promote this goal. Title II of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) similarly envisioned high-quality instruction enhanced by educational technology to help all students meet high standards. These visions are grounded in the idea that technology enhances all student learning and allows students with disabilities to participate in the general curriculum.
The vision established by these laws has proven difficult for many local and State education agencies to achieve. Thus, nine years after IDEA ’97, the promise of access through assistive technology (AT) and instructional technologies (IT) is still unfulfilled. Schools and districts are challenged to provide access to even basic technologies, particularly financially strapped urban and rural schools. And when technology is available, instructional personnel may not know how to effectively use it to deliver high-quality instruction. The most recent research from the National Center for Education Statistics found that administrators identified an insufficient number of teachers trained in using advanced telecommunications as the number one barrier to the use of technology by students with disabilities, and that this problem was greatest in schools with the highest proportion of poor students (NCES, 2002).
In addition, students and teachers often find barriers rather than supports for learning, tools that are poorly designed, and curricula that often lack the flexibility that teachers need to accommodate such students. The lack of flexibility undermines accountability and effectiveness by forcing teachers to modify or adapt the curriculum and its accountability systems in ways that are neither systematic nor evidence-based.
Finally, methodological issues have affected the quality of research related to the effectiveness of technology in enhancing educational outcomes for students with disabilities. These include the small number of subjects available for certain types of research designs; the interaction between the technologies and the quality and appropriateness of the curriculum delivered by the technologies; the individualized nature of special education; and the difficulty of embedding the technology-based intervention within the classroom context. There are also challenges in selecting the appropriate outcome measures, particularly related to technology where access—rather than student learning—is often the criterion.
If students with special needs are to realize the benefits of technology, there is a need to identify evidence-based, promising and emerging practices that help address the barriers that SEAs, LEAs, and practitioners have experienced in adopting and implementing technology. Effective technical assistance (TA) is necessary to bridge research and practice and to provide educators with the tools they need to successfully integrate technology.
CITEd was established to identify evidence-based, promising, and emerging practices and to identify and address the barriers that SEAs, LEAs, and teachers have experienced in adopting and implementing technology. The U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) conducted the competition for the center, as specified in its program announcement (CFDA 84.327M), and made the center award to the American Institutes for Research (AIR), in collaboration with the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) and the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), under Cooperative Agreement #H327M040004-06. CITEd began its 5-year program of services on October 1, 2004.