The Article entitled, "Equal Expectations: A Belief Pardigm or a Political Correct, Feel-Good Phrase" was given by Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas, M.D. (“Dr. V”) at the California Teachers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped Conference in 2007.
There has been some recent discussion in regards to the Utah School for the Blind and the services they provide blind/vi children throughout the state. We benefit from these services because my children attend a charter school. I have had the opportunity to share my view in public forums and strongly feel there needs to be some systemic accountability. There is always room for improvement and there are obvious gaps and loopholes that need to be acknowledged and accepted and then a plan of action to resolve.
One area of low expectations can be found in the level or literacy. I have cut and pasted a portion of Dr. V's article and encourage you to read the article in it's entirety.
Dr V. says:
Do you expect of your Braille-reading students? Do you expect your Braille readers to read faster than, at the same rate as, or slower than their print-reading classmates? Let me share with you one first grader’s perspective. One day when I was with Vejas in his first grade Lithuanian classroom, he, in his usual form, finished his assignment before anyone else. I leaned over to let him know this and he whispered back to me, “Of course Dad, that’s because I have the advantage--Braille is faster.” I am proud to share with you that Vejas was formally recognized as the best student and most fluent reader and writer in his Lithuanian school class that year.
California is the first state to adopt formal Braille Reading Standards
Let’s examine reading rate guideline data from the US Department of Education Web site that present the numbers of words per minute at which children read silently and orally during the elementary school years www.ed.gov/teachers/how/tools/initiative/summerworkshop/mccabe/edlite-slide019.html and middle school years www.ed.gov/teachers/how/tools/initiative/summerworkshop/mccabe/edlite-slide020.html:
Grade 2 (70-100 WPM silent); (66-104 oral) Grade 3 (95-130 WPM silent); (86-124 oral)
Grade 4 (120-170 WPM silent); (95-130 oral)
Grade 5 (160-210 WPM silent; (108-140 oral)
Grade 6(180-230 WPM silent; (112-145 oral)
Grade 7 (180-240 WPM silent; (122-155oral)
Do you expect your Braille readers to be reading at the pace suggested in these guidelines? By the end of sixth grade, are your Braille students reading 180-230 words per minute? Are your third graders reading 95-130 words per minute? These numbers may seem a little high, so let’s look at the reading fluency benchmarks that our school district (Manhattan Unified School District) uses:
District Benchmark(wpm with 95% accuracy)
Grade 1- 60WPM
Grade 2- 115 WPM
Grade 3- 130 WPM
Grade 4- 135 WPM
Grade 5- 150 WPM
The third grade benchmark is 130 words per minute with 95 percent accuracy.
Some of you may be thinking, “Dr. V, that is wishful thinking,” because your experiences have taught you that the blind adults, teens, and children you work with do not read that fast. Some might direct me to the NLS Factsheet, www.loc.gov/nls/reference/factsheets/braille.html, which states that the average reading speed of blind individuals is about 125 words per minute. To put this into perspective, based on the data from the US Department of Education Web site, that is about the average speed that a typical sighted third or fourth grade child reads print. But it is likely that the Braille reading speeds are based on a mixed bag of individuals, many of whom started reading Braille later in life as teens or as adults.
Some of you would likely to point me to these standards which have been posted on both the California Department of Education's Braille-n-Teach listserv http://csmt.cde.ca.gov/helpFAQ.aspx and on AERNet, the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired’s e-mail discussion listserv: http://lists.aerbvi.org/pipermail/aernet_lists.aerbvi.org, numbers which are actually being used by VI professionals around the country.
Grade Level Reading Rate-Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) Assessment Kit
Grade 3- 51 WPM
Grade 4- 58 WPM
Grade 5- 66 WPM
Grade 6- 67 WPM
College- 115 WPM
Grade 3- 30 WPM
Grade 6- 60 WPM
Grade 9- 90 WPM
High School Graduate- 120 WPM
At the third grade level, in stark contrast to the 95-130 words per minute proposed by the guidelines on the US Department of Education Web site, or the 130 words per minute benchmark set by our school district, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) Assessment Kit reportedly suggests that 51 words per minute is acceptable and even more shocking is the 30 words per minute benchmark put forth as adequate by the Michigan scale.
By the end of third grade Vejas was clocked at an oral reading speed of 182 words per minute with 100 percent accuracy. I only recently explained to Vejas that there are educators who believe that Braille is a slower reading medium than print. With utter disbelief, Vejas replied with, “But that’s ridiculous!”...
What about your low-vision, large-print readers? Are they keeping pace with, or out-pacing, their sighted peers? How does their reading proficiency compare to their age-matched sighted classmates or the Braille-reading NFB Braille Readers Are Leaders contest participants we just looked at? Are your large-print readers struggling to keep up with schoolwork? How many are avid readers? How many actually enjoy reading for fun? If they must read, do they prefer to listen to books on tape? Are they, too, participating in reading contests? By high school, are they able to read hundreds of pages per week?
Are your Braille students keeping pace with their classmates when it comes to taking notes in class and completing their assignments? What about your large-print readers? How efficiently can they take handwritten notes in class? Are they as fast as their sighted peers? How legible are their notes when they need to review the information? Can they efficiently read their own notes without having to lug a CCTV everywhere?
In children with residual vision, Braille is not encouraged as much as it could or should be. I was heartbroken by a question posed to me by a girl in middle school who came to a workshop I was giving last year on Braille resources. She sat down in the front row and before I formally started, she raised her hand and asked me, “How do I convince my teachers to teach me Braille?”
She went on to elaborate. “I have some vision and my teachers make me use large print, but I can only see a few words at time on a computer screen. I just can’t keep up with my schoolwork and homework. I can’t even read my own notes without a magnifying device. I just don’t know what to do. I know I should learn Braille, but my teachers are unwilling to teach me. What can I do?”
Unfortunately this story is neither unique nor that uncommon. I have heard such stories many a time, including at this and prior CTEVH conferences. Just because a child can read enlarged print does not mean that that is the best primary learning mode for that student. The irony is that children who have some residual sight are frequently at a disadvantage because they often can’t keep up with their peers and may ultimately be less likely to be passionate about reading. Furthermore, it is important to remember that many conditions (even in children) are associated with progressive loss of vision over time, in some cases due to the underlying eye condition, in others from retinal detachment or glaucoma.
Do educators have equal expectations of blind children? If educators truly believe in “equal expectations,” then why is it that nationally only 45 percent of blind or severely visually impaired, but otherwise capable, students graduate from high school, compared to 80 percent of their sighted counterparts? (Data from the American Foundation for the Blind [AFB] Web site: www.afb.org/section.asp?SectionID=15&DocumentID=1367) Why do only 16 percent of those blind or severely visually impaired students that graduate high school then go on to earn a college degree? Now granted one doesn’t need a high school diploma or college diploma to a get a job, but everyone should agree that advanced education certainly broadens one’s options.
Some may feel I am overreacting and claim that local outcomes are better. How many of the Braille readers and large-print readers in your school system graduate from high school and from college? How many have gone on to pursue postgraduate studies, including law school, medical school, or PhDs? How does the performance of Braille-reading students and large-print reading students in California compare to the rest of the children taking the California state STAR exam? Where is the actual data? Who collects it? How accurate is it? I am under the impression that such education attainment statistics are not well tracked. Where is the accountability? California state testing results are broken down by economic status, gender, ethnicity, and the broad category of disabilities. The state testing agency knows which students get Braille or large print exams. Why are the performance results of blind and visually impaired children therefore not examined and made available? Without accurate and current local district, SELPA, or state-based statistics, how can parents be asked to “back off” and to put their full trust in “the system”? Employment status is a reasonable alternate measure of the fruits of the current educational system. According to the AFB Web site, www.afb.org/section.asp?SectionID=15&DocumentID=1367, less than half of low vision adults and only about a third of legally blind adults are employed, and of that third, 93 percent of the employed blind read and write Braille; only 7 percent don’t. We must also take into account that these statistics focus only on employment status, that is, employed versus unemployed, not on the type of job one is able to hold. As a parent who wants the best for his blind children, I find these statistics sobering. We must all critically examine the educational system performance hard data, the educational report cards so to speak. The data suggests that at the schooling level there is a huge discrepancy between the accomplishments of sighted and blind children. From a parent’s standpoint, I must interject that this report card of the current status of affairs is also not at all encouraging and is certainly not reassuring.