(Salem, Ore.) - For the first time in Oregon history, blind students now have access to the state’s online adaptive test system. Before this school year, Oregon’s blind students took their state tests using printed Braille assessments. Now, thanks to cutting edge technology, Braille users are taking state tests online with their peers.
“Thanks to years of work by dedicated staff, educators and partners, we have provided access not only to our online testing system but also to critical technical tools that will help our students prepare for their futures,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo. “Oregon’s online, adaptive testing system has long been seen as a model in the nation, and now, for the first time, this system is available to all Oregon kids.”
The new OAKS Online Braille Interface, designed by Oregon’s test vendor and partner American Institutes for Research (AIR), allows Oregon’s blind students to access the same online test and the same number of testing opportunities as their sighted classmates. In addition, Oregon’s online testing system is adaptive, meaning that each student’s test is unique and adapts to the level of difficulty most appropriate for that student. Oregon’s adaptive testing system provides a more precise measure of what students know and are able to do and provides students and teachers with immediate feedback on whether or not a student has met standard. In the past, Braille users had to work their way through thick stacks of printed test pages and students could only take the test once.
Damanti Burfict, an 8th grader at LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, is one of the students who has used the new testing system. “It’s pretty cool,” said Burfict. “It helped me understand what the test was all about and it helped get the test done quicker. It felt great to know I was taking the same test as everybody else.”
Damanti’s vision teacher, Joyce Lonsford, echoed his excitement. “This test gives kids the control, the power to make choices. The people who put this together did an awesome job!” Students will continue to take the test throughout the spring.
Thanks to funding from the Blind and Visually Impaired Student Fund, which was created after the sale of the Oregon School for the Blind, state-of-the-art technology tools were provided for each Braille user in Oregon public schools.
"These new assessments are a great example of how the Blind and Visually Impaired Student fund can be used to boost access and achievement for kids all across the state," said Rep. Sara Gelser. "Hopefully, this is just one of many initiatives Oregon will take to be on the leading edge of accessibility for students with sensory disabilities."
Oregon’s K-12 Braille users now have access to a range of technology tools including a refreshable Braille display so that students can read what is on their computer screen, a desktop embosser to print Braille documents at the school site, and specialized software to translate documents into Braille and read text aloud to students. In addition to using this equipment for state testing, students and teachers also have access to these tools for instructional purposes.
“Having an embosser and Braille translation software at every school with a visually impaired student is key as it allows the student to have more timely access to instructional materials,” said Northwest Regional ESD Vision Services Coordinator Scott McCallum. “This technology really levels the playing field. As our society becomes more and more reliant on computers, the more computer and technology experience our students have the better prepared they will be for what they will face in college or a career.”
The Oregon Department of Education worked closely with the American Institutes for Research over the past two years to design and launch this new test interface. Educators, content experts, vision teachers, Braillists, and students from around the state provided input and expertise during the design phase and helped to prepare Oregon’s bank of over 16,000 test items for presentation in Braille.
“AIR was thrilled to partner with ODE and a diverse group of experts to develop this real-time Braille system,” said Dr. Jon Cohen, Executive Vice President and Director of AIR’s Assessment Program. “The system is providing truly equal access for Oregon’s students who are blind and is serving as a national model as other states adopt this approach.”
While a few other states have offered online Braille tests to students, Oregon is the first to offer an online, adaptive test to Braille users. As the nation moves toward common assessments to test students on the new Common Core State Standards, there will be a need for a nationally recognized online Braille assessment. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium will be conducting a case study of Oregon’s new Braille interface this spring to examine the possibility of using it as a model for national use.
For more information on the OAKS Online Braille Interface, please visit: http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?id=3368.
For more information about the Blind and Visually Impaired Student Fund, please visit: http://sites.google.com/site/oregonbvis.
Oregon State Department of Education
Susan Castillo, State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Christine Miles, Communications Director, Telephone (503) 947-5637