Even 4 Years Later, Mississippi Students Benefit from the NRMA

10 Feb
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West Robertson, M.Ed., NCLB, NCUEB

West Robertson, M.Ed., NCLB, NCUEB

Casey was named as the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children in 2012 in part for her constant advocacy that blind children learn braille in a positive environment. In addition to serving as an independent contractor with four school districts in Mississippi, Casey is an active researcher and instructor at Louisiana Tech University.

In 2012, Mississippi became the first state in the nation to require teachers of blind students to, at a minimum, include a research-based assessment in their determination of whether students’ primary reading media should be print, braille or both. At this time, the only assessment that meets this definition is the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA).

Even though we faced great opposition from other teachers while the state legislature debated this bill, in the four years since its inception, there has been no vocal attempt to repeal it. Put another way, we have not heard of a single student who has been harmed by taking or implementing the results of the NRMA!

The NRMA is fair and un-biased

Before taking the NRMA, the parents and teachers of an albino student believed that large print alone was the best reading medium for him. Results from the NRMA, however, indicated that the student should learn braille and use large print (i.e. dual media instruction).

Another student, now a sixth grader, was only using large print. After transferring school districts, the teacher assessed her using the NRMA; those results indicated that, while large print was a viable solution for now, she should be using braille because her eye condition is known to be degenerative. Had this bill not become law in Mississippi, the new school district would have picked up from her last IEP without re-assessing her future needs.

Before we helped to pass this law, critics claimed that the assessment was biased. They argued that the assessment results would recommend that every legally blind student be a braille reader. A look at the numbers will prove that this assessment is not biased. Two other Mississippi teachers sent me the results of their assessments. Out of 41 assessments,

  • 10 students should use large print as their primary reading medium
  • 14 students should use braille as their primary reading medium
  • 17 students were recommended for dual-media (large print and braille) instruction

The assessment process is quicker than ever

Of 110 students evaluated using the NRMA in 2010, the average assessment took just 64 minutes:

  • Parents needed just 14 minutes to complete their observation form
  • The student interview lasted 12 minutes
  • Classroom teachers completed their evaluation in 13 minutes
  • TVIs completed their questionnaire in 25 minutes, including the time to enter all the data into the online portal

To be clear, I still conduct other assessments with students. For a student with a disability that impacts his or her motor skills, reading braille in the conventional way may be difficult. When I encounter these situations, the assessment is still accurate, for if the tool recommends braille, it’s obvious that large print will not be a viable solution. That’s when we look at other possibilities, such as reading braille on a refreshable display, using more audio-based instruction than other students, or brainstorming other solutions with the IEP team.

All students still undergo a functional vision assessment

In our state, after schools suspect that a student’s visual acuity may be impacting their classwork, they are presented with two options.

  1. For no charge to the parent, the family can travel to the state school for the blind, where they undergo a low-vision assessment.
  2. The parents can take their child to an ophthalmologist of their choice and submit the report to the school district.

Before this law took effect, many teachers of visually-impaired students relied on the assessment from the low vision clinic at the school for the blind. The TVI could, and still can, choose to do other assessments, but many have told me privately that they were crunched for time and did not. Now, this additional assessment—which is often conducted at the local level—provides measurable, standardized information for the entire IEP team.

We are serving more students

Today, we have more kids on our quota funds register than we did in 2012. There are many factors that could be influencing this, but the fact remains that more teachers now know how to identify students that may be struggling to read print.

Our state Department of Education and Braille Bill Advisory Committee have done a good job of educating Special Ed directors, for at each annual training session, blindness and this law is now discussed with representatives from every school district. Schools are self-auditing themselves to ensure that there is a standardized, research-based assessment in every visually-impaired student’s file.

Everything changed, yet nothing changed

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember two key facts about the Mississippi law.

First, teachers are free to use other tools, assessments, and observations in making their recommendations to the IEP team. If teachers want to use only one assessment, then it must be a standardized, research-based tool. By no means does this law mandate that the results of the NRMA be the only determinant of a student’s reading medium.

Secondly, in the grand scheme of educating blind students, nothing changed. The presumed reading medium for blind students, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, is braille. That is, unless the IEP team can clearly prove why braille will not be effective.

And that’s a tall order when you have an objective, standardized and research-based assessment in front of you that clearly shows why a student should be a braille or dual-media learner.

So, in my opinion, kids who are visually impaired in the state of Mississippi are better equipped than they have ever been. TVIs now have a standardized, research-based tool that provides them with an objective measure when explaining their decisions to school officials. Parents, too, are also reassured when the recommendations for their child's welfare are clear, concise and obvious.

The following two tabs change content below.
West Robertson, M.Ed., NCLB, NCUEB

West Robertson, M.Ed., NCLB, NCUEB

Casey was named as the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children in 2012 in part for her constant advocacy that blind children learn braille in a positive environment. In addition to serving as an independent contractor with four school districts in Mississippi, Casey is an active researcher and instructor at Louisiana Tech University.

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