Should This Blind Student Read Print or Braille?

17 Nov
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Edward Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC

Edward Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC

Dr. Bell is the Director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University.

When faced with a student who still has some residual vision, teachers always want to know if the student should be taught using braille, large print, or both. We have prepared this set of frequently asked questions about a reliable, standardized, and free tool that IEP teams can use.

More information is available at or in the Journal of Blindness Education and Research (JBIR).

What is the National Reading Media Assessment (NRMA)?

The NRMA is an assessment of the visual reading efficiency of youth in kindergarten through 12th grade who are visually impaired. The tool is designed to measure the extent to which large print materials are sufficient to complete academic tasks, whether braille should be introduced, or whether the youth should be given primary instruction in braille.

Who is the intended audience for the NRMA?

The target population for this tool consists of youth with an identified visual impairment who have enough visual functioning to identify print letters or shapes by sight.

Why and by whom was the NRMA created?

In 2008, the National Federation of the Blind brought together a committee of experienced teachers of blind students, professors in teacher-prep programs, specialists in deafblindness and multiple disabilities, as well as experienced parent advocates. Teachers reported that, instead of using one particular tool, they were picking and choosing parts that they liked from several different instruments. The result was inconsistent collected data and a great deal of subjectivity. This group determined that in order to facilitate academic success for partially-sighted students, a new evaluation instrument was needed to identify a student’s appropriate reading medium or media.

How long does this assessment take to administer?

On average, the assessment takes just over one hour to complete, making it easy for a teacher to use it many times throughout the year to ensure the student is using the most efficient reading media. Before the NRMA was developed, assessments were too lengthy, cumbersome, time consuming, and difficult to score/interpret.

Is there research to support the results of the NRMA?

The NRMA underwent three rounds of reliability and validity testing. The assessment is driven by data, which means that clear, objective, and observable behaviors translate into meaningful metrics. These statistics help the teacher to more effectively understand the true effects of a student’s visual impairment on the task of reading.

Are teachers required to use a particular tool?

Teachers can use any test they want, or a combination of tools. All that is required is that the results be discussed with the IEP team. Many teachers use parts of an assessment kit created by the Texas School for the Blind. At its core, the test doesn’t look at what medium is most effective for a student; rather it seeks to address which comes more naturally to a student. “Retrieving an item from a backpack,” the test says is a “tactile” behavior; “reaching out to grab a pen from a teacher” is a visual behavior. This is why having a research-based instrument removes some of the subjectivity in the assessment process and allows decisions to be grounded in actual data.

Current law requires that both be completed and reviewed by the IEP team. No state other than Mississippi requires that blind students be given a specific assessment.

Why is this free and you have to pay for others?

Countless individuals have donated their time and expertise to the development of this assessment. Furthermore, our ability to continue offering the NRMA at no cost comes from a steadfast determination in the efficacy of this instrument and the positive impact that it may have on the literacy of children with visual impairments. Therefore, we make it a core part of our daily work to maintain, train, refine and support the NRMA.

Should you only use this assessment when developing an Individualized Education Plan for student with visual impairments?

When you are looking to answer the question about the most efficient reading medium (braille, print, or a combination of both), then you can use the NRMA on its own with the highest level of confidence. However, when you are evaluating other interventions for a student (such as cognitive ability, learning style, strengths, weaknesses, or social skills), the NRMA becomes one tool in your toolbox of methods for developing a student’s list of accommodations.

The assessment process with blind students and low vision students is very fluid; it never ends. It’s a comprehensive, ongoing project. Therefore, you should never just assess a student once and then wait three years to assess him or her again.

Why are students not allowed to use optical devices when being assessed?

Just as ophthalmologists ask patients to sit at a standard distance and not use optical magnification so as to obtain an accurate measure of acquity, so too is the case here. The NRMA is an objective measure of a youth’s visual functioning as it relates to educational tasks, such as reading. If a student were allowed to use magnification with this assessment, it would be just like an opthamologist allowing you to stand closer to the eye chart and recording your vision as 20/30 when you could only read the big letter “E” from the chair. Standard measurements lead to reliable data.

Does this test have a braille bias? That is, will braille be recommended for every student who takes the test?

Many people think that the assessment will always come out advocating for braille or dual media. This is false. If a student can comfortably read legal large print (14-18 point) at 12-14 inches for a sustained period, large print may be a viable option. The NRMA is no more braille-biased than traditional assessments are print-biased. The NRMA measures average visual functioning under standard educational conditions without respect to bias of the reading medium.

Why do I have to give personal information to get a password on the web site?

As noted in the overview to this assessment, the NRMA is provided free-of-charge. Our intent is to continue researching, refining, and strengthening the validity of the assessment, which is why we ask for your basic contact information and role when you apply for an account. Your information is never shared with any third party and all data is password protected and encrypted. We do reserve the right to contact you about your willingness to participate in research, but you are never under any obligation to participate.

Has data been used to get teachers fired or shared with the National Federation of the Blind?

No. We neither have the ability nor the right to look at student-level data. First, the database is stored and managed securely by a third party who is strictly bound by the protections set forth in the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) and other laws. Additionally, the assessment does not gather or store any information that could identify a specific student on a teacher’s caseload. Our goal is to provide an accurate, reliable, and standardized tool for you to use to guide the IEP team’s decision about the best reading media for a student to use.

How can I get access to the assessment?

Complete the quick application form on the NFB-NRMA web site.

The following two tabs change content below.
Edward Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC

Edward Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC

Dr. Bell is the Director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University.

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