Dr. Sheila Macrine, associate professor of education, received the first prize award for "Best Research in Social Science, Arts and Humanities" at the 2014 Qatar Foundation International Annual Research Conference.
Macrine was recognized for her work in adapting a developmental assessment tool for Arabic-speaking children who are blind or visually impaired. The tool—which will be used to determine the children's skill and performance levels—consists of 835 behavioral statements that are developmentally sequenced into eight areas: cognitive, language, social, vision, compensatory, self-help, fine motor, and gross motor.
Adjusting for cultural differences
Macrine received a three-year $600,000 grant from the Qatar National Research Fund to help adapt a U.S.-based assessment tool to serve Arabic-speaking preschool children. She utilized the Oregon Project, one of the most comprehensive assessment and curriculum programs available for visually impaired children.
Her challenge was to overcome linguistic and cultural differences to develop a meaningful tool for the children of Qatar.
Developmental screening has become an established component of child health programs in many developed countries. Not only is early identification of developmental disorders critical to the well-being of children, implementation of developmental screening can also be very useful in the identification of otherwise undiagnosed developmental delays or to rule out autism.
Yet there is a lack of developmental assessments for children who are blind or visually impaired, and the situation is even more limited when evaluating young children with visual impairments who speak languages other than English. Macrine's research addresses this need for Arabic-speaking preschool children.
"My research is committed to the development of accessible assessments for all children, and this research project has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life," said Macrine. "Developmental assessment is essential for normal seeing kids to determine if they are meeting developmental milestones within normal limits."
Training psychologists and teachers: abroad and at home
Macrine's goal is to train psychologists and teachers to evaluate the cognitive development of children and help create individualized education plans, not only in Qatar but in other Arabic-speaking countries.
She also plans to bring her work in Qatar back to UMass Dartmouth, where she teaches courses in special education.
This semester, she'll provide her students—who are teachers and aspiring teachers—with hands-on experience performing educational assessments that are culturally and linguistically sensitive.
"We'll work in Fall River's community schools with children who have diverse backgrounds both in terms of language and culture," Macrine said.
"When children come to school with different language and cultural backgrounds, a traditional tool may not accurately assess their learning abilities. For a child who seems to have a learning disability, it's important to know whether the learning disability is language-based or whether it's because of a language difference."
A cognitive psychologist as well as a professor of education, Macrine's research focuses on teaching and assessing culturally and linguistically diverse students. She has published numerous articles on diverse learners and recently published four books on critical pedagogy.