The Braille Monitor                                                                                               January, 2004

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State Braille Standards for Teachers of Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A National Survey

by Barry B. Frieman

From the Editor: Barry Frieman is a professor at Towson University in Maryland. He has performed a valuable service by gathering into one place the information about how each of the states establishes its standards for hiring the teachers charged with preparing its blind and visually impaired students. The article is a bit more academic than most of the pieces published in these pages, but we consider that making the information available for study, comparison, and action by every affiliate is critically important. Here it is:

The Challenge

Principals and administrators are faced with the challenge of finding competent teachers who have the expertise in Braille to teach children who are blind and visually impaired. These teachers need many skills other than Braille in order to be successful, including the ability to teach compensatory skills; prepare special learning materials; assess student learning; collaborate and consult with other professionals; understand the physiology of the eye and the medical implications of visual impairments; teach orientation and mobility; and other teaching skills. This research project was limited to Braille.

Administrators in local school districts depend upon state education agencies to set the certification standards for teachers. All states have specific certification standards for those who teach children who are visually impaired; however, these standards vary across the country. This research study will report the variance in Braille certification standards across the country for teachers of children who are visually impaired.

Teachers and Braille

The American Foundation for the Blind (1996) estimated that fewer than 10 percent of people who are legally blind in the United States and fewer than 40 percent of the estimated number who are functionally blind are Braille readers. Although a great deal of technology is available to aid in the literacy of children who have some usable vision-–computer voice programs, magnifying devices, audio devices, etc.--these children also need a knowledge of Braille in order for them to reach their maximum level of literacy and self-sufficiency.

Technology does not guarantee literacy. Spungin (1996) believes that one of the major reasons for the increasing illiteracy of people who are blind and visually impaired is the historical emphasis on teaching children with residual vision to read print. Wittenstein and Pardee (1996) found that 89.4 percent of the teachers surveyed in a national sample agreed that technological devices should be used to enhance Braille and not to replace it.

As Maneki (1989) points out, problems arise when the person with a visual impairment who has not been properly trained in Braille is forced to rely on clearly inadequate partial vision rather than the more efficient Braille system. Although some children with visual impairments can make use of enlarged print generated by computers and video technology, Maneki notes that the limits of depending on large print only-–eyestrain, slowness, and the relative lack of portability of the equipment-–makes a convincing argument that Braille must be taught as well.

Allman (1998) notes that, if vision teachers are expected to teach Braille and related skills, they must learn these skills in their preservice training. Knowlton and Berger (1999) point out that teachers not only need to know Braille but also need to use the new computer technologies that enhance a teacher's ability to produce Braille materials. Amato (2002) notes specifically that teachers of Braille need to be able to demonstrate proficiency in all five of the Braille codes: literary, Nemeth (math and science), music, foreign language, and computer. She goes on to suggest that the National Literary Braille Competency Test be used by teacher preparation programs as an assessment of their preservice teachers' Braille skills.

The Research Method

Written queries were sent to departments of education in all fifty states. State department of education personnel were asked to send a copy of their certification standards for teachers of children who are blind or visually impaired. Some states sent paper copies of their standards, others responded via email, while still others sent instructions on how to find the queried data on the state's Web site. Follow-up phone calls or emails were made to state personnel if clarification was required. Data from the four states that didn't respond to the researcher's request were collected from the state's Web site. Data were collected from all fifty states.

Avenues to Certification

States certify (i.e., license) candidates who want to teach children who are visually impaired in three main ways: requiring the candidate to graduate from an approved bachelor's or master's program from an approved college or university; have a generic degree (bachelor's or master's) in special education; or have an endorsement to an existing certificate in either early childhood, elementary, secondary, or special education, spelling out courses needed to gain that endorsement.

Approved Programs

Nineteen states require candidates to graduate from an approved program. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (2003) requires that colleges or universities applying for approval document that their preparation program follows the guidelines of a recognized learned society. The Council for Exceptional Children (2003), a recognized learned society in special education, has developed performance-based standards for programs to train teachers of students who have a visual impairment. The standards cover the following areas:

• Foundations-–a general understanding of the basic terminology related to the visual system, a historical view of education of the blind, and an understanding of federal programs;

• Development and characteristics of learners-–effects of blindness on development, and physiological and psychosocial issues related to blindness;

• Individual learning differences-–effects of blindness on learning;

• Instructional strategies-–including strategies to teach Braille reading and writing, specialized daily living skills, and techniques to modify instructional materials and methods to best meet the needs of blind children;

• Learning environments/social interactions--modifying the environment for visually impaired students;

• Language--strategies for teaching alternatives to nonverbal communication for visually impaired students;

• Instructional planning--implementing and evaluating learning objectives for visually impaired students;

• Assessment--specialized techniques for visually impaired students;

• Professional and ethical practice;

• Collaboration--with families and other professionals.

If a candidate graduates from an approved program that follows the Council for Exceptional Children's standards, an administrator can predict that the teaching candidate will have the necessary background to teach Braille.

Generic Special Education Degree

Seven states required candidates to have a generic degree in special education with no mention of a course or competency in Braille. Candidates with a special education degree will have experience and skills in dealing with children with special needs but will not necessarily know how to teach Braille.

Endorsement

Twenty-four states require candidates to have courses in order to earn an endorsement. Candidates with endorsements will have taken an array of courses related to blindness. Some states require the students to have a single course in Braille. Completing a course brings no guarantees that the candidate is competent in Braille. Other states require candidates to show a competency in Braille. A complete state-by-state report of the findings is noted at the conclusion of this article.

Action for Administrators

Strong and convincing evidence exists that early literacy in Braille for students who are visually impaired will facilitate positive outcomes in many areas (Johnson, 1996; Ryles, 1996). To act in the best interests of children who are visually impaired, administrators must make a commitment that every child who is blind or visually impaired shall have the right to be taught Braille and that the Braille be taught by somebody who is competent in its use.

Today principals have no guarantee that a candidate with formal credentials from a state will be fluent in Braille. Administrators need to insure that every candidate hired to work with children who are visually impaired has the skills to teach Braille.

Summary

To best serve the children who are visually impaired in their care, administrators need to hire teachers qualified to teach Braille. With solid Braille literacy skills taught by competent teachers, children who are visually impaired will be able to reach their full potential and take their place in American society.

References

Allman, C.B. (1998). Braille communication skills: What teachers teach and visually impaired adults use. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 92(5), 331-338.

Amato, S. (2002). Standards for competence in Braille literacy skills in teacher preparation programs. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 96(3), 143-154.

American Foundation for the Blind (1996). Estimated number of adult Braille readers in the United States. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 287.

Council for Exceptional Children (2003). Professional standards. Retrieved March 24, 2003, from http:www.cec.sped.org/ps/.

Johnson, L. (1996). The Braille literacy crisis for children. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 276-279.

Knowlton, M., & Berger, K. (1999). Competencies required of Braille teachers. Re:View, 30(4), 151-160.

Maneki, A.P. (1989). Blindness and the Use of Partial Vision. Braille Monitor, August, 444-446.

National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (2003). Professional standards. Retrieved March 24, 2003, from http://www.ncate.org/standards/m_stds.html.

Ryles, R. (1996). Impact of Braille reading skills in employment, income, education, and reading habits. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 219-227.

Spungin, S.J. (1996). Braille and beyond: Braille literacy in a larger context. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 271-275.

Wittenstein, S.H., & Pardee, M.L. (1996). Teachers' voices: Comments on Braille and literacy from the field. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 90(3), 201-210.

State Requirements

Generic special education degree:

Alabama, Hawaii, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming

Endorsement:

Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wisconsin

Graduate of an approved special education degree program:

Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia

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