Greg Trapp, Executive Director for the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, has made a generous offer to his staff. For each section of the National Certification in Literary Braille that his staff pass, they’ll receive two hours of administrative leave. If they pass all four sections, he’ll throw in an additional eight hours of administrative leave.
“The ability to show that [braille teachers] have a level of knowledge that they can in turn impart is extraordinarily valuable,” Trapp said. “Anyone can assert to know braille, but there are very specific rules. Being able to read braille doesn’t exactly correlate to the ability to teach or understand enough code to instruct someone else.”
To Trapp’s agency, the financial cost truly is an investment.
“We are the poorest state in the country and one of the largest,” he said. “We’re the fifth largest, have 89 school districts, very rural and poor. There are enormous obstacles. This is a significant amount of money, but it’s worth it.”
The New Mexico Commission went a step further than just providing the means and space for staff to take the certification exam, for they also hosted a prep course with the exam’s coordinators. The goal was not to teach the entire braille code. Rather, the focus was upon providing the experience of hearing the exact instructions, reading sample questions and passages, and receiving personalized feedback.
“People read what the expectations are going to be, but then they don’t prepare,” said NCLB Coordinator Maria Morais, who taught the course earlier this month in advance of Saturday’s exam date. “The second time that people take the NCLB test, we see a higher percentage of people pass. This event in New Mexico acted as a first test.”
For Trapp, bringing somebody from outside the agency brought an important aura of credibility.
“It’s one thing for us to have staff who have NCLB (such as Kelly Burma who is our first person to be re-certified in this state; and she’s on my staff),” he said. “But I think it shows our commitment to put our resources out there to bring experts here. It was really a way of showing the teaching community, and not just my agency, that we’re making a real effort here.”
The rehabilitation teachers, counselors, and administrative staff who attended the training event were given nearly a full-length sample test, yet they had 25 percent of the time to finish each section. Still, many participants reported that they still had enough time to go back and check their work.
“Anybody can go online and purchase a sample NCLB test, but there’s no way to get feedback,” Morais said. “After lunch, anybody who wanted to could get feedback about the errors that they made and how to avoid them next time. This gave people a chance to ask questions, learn specific time management strategies, and know what to expect.”
One attendee remarked, “I’m glad that I had the experience of sitting in a room with everyone using a braille writer. I didn’t realize how distracting it could be!”
“We have a real crisis out there with respect to braille instruction in the state and in this country,” Trapp said. “It’s manifesting in our consumers who don’t have the braille skills that they need or did a generation ago. When students don’t have braille skills, they don’t have confidence, which translates to individuals setting lower goals. There’s a whole cascading series of things that happen. The seeds that we’re planting here now and did four years ago will bear fruit in five, 10, and 20 years down the road. I hope that we’re doing here will be emulated elsewhere. We’re seeing a real shortage of qualified teachers of the blind in terms of instruction.”
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