Rachel Schles, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of the Practice, Department of Special Education; Coordinator, Visual Disabilities Track
Overview of Interests
Dr. Schles' research centers around the identification and eligibility process for students with visual impairments (including students with deafblindness) for special education services. Identification for special education services is a critical process all students with disabilities must pass through in order to obtain special education services (birth through high school graduation). Yet, Dr. Schles’ research demonstrates the interstate variations in educational policies result in students with visual impairments being identified based on where they live rather than the severity of their disability. Her novel research into identification and eligibility for students with visual impairments (preK-12th grade) demonstrates that states are supporting, on average, 3.5 to 4 times the number of students with visual impairments accounted for in annual federal reports. These variations in eligibility criteria and population data across states have significant implications for educators, policy makers, and advocates, as well as families navigating interstate moves and attempting to access services. Dr. Schles’ work around identification and eligibility has led to exploring how and why individuals elect to become teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs). Students with disabilities have improved outcomes if they receive individually designed instruction, yet there is a long-established shortage of TVIs in the United States, impacting both student outcomes and the initial identification of students with visual impairments. Her work utilizes multiple and mixed research methodologies.