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Report on Braille Adaptations of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills

Background Information

The Division of Student Assessment at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) facilitated a meeting on October 14, 1993 to review the current procedures for brailling and producing large-print versions of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) tests. In attendance were staff representing the following agencies or groups:

  • Division of Student Assessment, TEA
  • Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • Services for Visually Handicapped Students, TEA
  • National Computer Systems Psychological Corporation
  • Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (School districts throughout Texas)
  • Braille Readers
  • Braille Specialists


Major concerns were identified at the initial meeting, solutions were recommended and a plan of action was outlined. The three main areas of concern were in test administration, braille test item adaptations, and the acquisition/reporting of data.

Test Administration: Meeting attendees provided the following information:

  • Teachers want explicit guidelines as to how much or little assistance they can provide a student during the test.
  • Teachers want a list of necessary materials prior to the day of the test. Teachers want practice materials available for sighted students to also be available in braille.
  • Teachers want clarification on how much time a student can spend on a test.
  • Teachers want a toll-free help line for questions or problems on test day i.e., a defective booklet, no list of materials received, etc.
  • Teachers want specific instruction as to what is allowable in the transcription of the writing response from braille to print.

Braille Test Item Adaptations: The following issues relating to test item production were discussed;

  • The types of visuals/graphics represented in braille.
  • Test items require multiple scanning tasks, (i.e. large tables, long reading passages, etc.)
  • Testing instructions/directions to the student.
  • Spatial concepts such as 3-D concepts and textures that are not appropriate to braille.
  • Participation of VI teachers during the item development process.

Test Reporting Meeting attendees offered the following concerns:

  • Availability of raw data for braille test results.
  • Access/availability of test results.
  • Affect of omitted items on test results


Test administration:

  • Revise the general and special instructions to clearly define the parameters for teacher intervention during braille test administration.
  • Provide a toll-free number in the instructions.
  • Provide braille measurement specifications.

Braille test item adaptations:

  • Establish an interim standards committee for the convention of graphics and test item adaptations in braille for the StAAR and end-of-course tests.
  • Involve specialists, in the field of vision, on item advisory review committees.
  • Involve TEA Special Education /VI staff in dissemination of information related to the interim standards.
  • Establish an external quality review committee.

Test reporting:

  • Outline access issues in the Coordinator Instructions manual.
  • Provide a method of coding braille and large print test documents.


As a result of the October 14, 1993 meeting a committee was established to review measurement specifications sample STAAR and end-of-course test items for accuracy, clarity, braille appropriateness, graphic representations, format, style and content. The first meeting of the Interim Standards Committee for the Convention of Graphics and Test Item Adaptations met on November 16 and 17, 1993Each sample test item was transcribed into braille in advance and provided to the committee members for reference during the item-by-item analysis.

The Committee met again in December 1993 with a final meeting in February 1994The goal of the committee was to complete the sample test item analysis and reach agreement as a group, on decisions for braille test adaptations for the Spring 1994 braille STAAR and end-of-course tests. Following is a report from the Committee outlining their recommendations.

Interim Standards Committee Recommendations

Assessment Specialists:

  • Laura Ayala, Division of Student Assessment, Texas Education Agency
  • Nan Bulla, Diagnostician Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Austin, Texas
  • Jenny Kile Russell, Division of Student Assessment, Texas Education Agency
  • Phyllis Stolp, Division of Student Assessment, Texas Education Agency

Braille Reading Professionals:

  • Olivia Chavez: Consultant for Student with Visual Impairments, Region XIX Education Service Center, E1 Paso, Texas
  • Marilyn Williams: Certified Braille Proofreader, Region IV Education Service Center, Houston, Texas

Teachers with multiple years experience in administering braille tests:

  • Lorinda Heslip, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, Klein Independent School District
  • Pat Knox, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, Garland Independent School District
  • Rita Livingston, Principal, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • Susan Osterhaus, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • Christy Shephard, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District
  • Renee Shepler, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, Austin Independent School District

Braille Test Specialists

  • Priscilla Harris, Certified Braille Transcriber, New York Department of Education, National Braille Association
  • Diane Spence, Braille Production Specialist, Region IV Education Service Center

The Interim Standards Committee for the Convention of Graphics and Test item Adaptations met to make recommendations on the appropriate adaptations for braille transcribed test items from the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) and end-of-course tests. All grade levels and subject area items were carefully reviewed with recommendations made by the committee based upon teacher input, student braille-reading needs, test protocol, and national standards for braille transcribed test material.

National standard formatting guidelines were followed for the majority of the print test transcription. The committee made specific decisions on individual test items which are outlined in the following sections of this report. There were, however, basic concepts discussed and recommendations made as follows:

Omitted Items
If a print item is not adaptable in braille, it should be omitted on the braille test and noted in the special instructions to the test administrator as well as referenced on the braille test.

Order of Presentation
The decision was made to maintain the print order of presentation as much as possible (question?-graphic? answer choices) in an effort to provide consistency for the student throughout the test. Previous versions of the test had been braille transcribed showing the questions, followed by the answer choices, ending with the graphic. There was a concern that the answer choices are not always the last item presented on all questions and that this might cause some confusion to the student.

Picture Descriptions
The committee members felt very strongly that if the test included pictures, either as a focusing technique or to set the stage for the upcoming passage or question, that these pictures should be described. There was discussion about the additional reading that would be required of the braille student as compared to the sighted student because of the added picture descriptions. The recommendation was made to include a copy of all picture descriptions in the special administration instructions and instruct the student to either read the picture descriptions themselves or have the test administrator read them.

Boxed Material
The committee recommended that boxed print material also be boxed in braille even if the question and answer choices pertaining to the boxed material had to be moved to a new page.

Special Instructions to the Student
The committee recommended that when a table or graphic appears on a different page than the question, that the question be modified to indicate its location. For example: "...Use the graph below to answer question 13 on the next page."

Graphic Preferences
The committee had specific opinions about the types of graphics that were prepared for their review. A clear distinction was made as to the types of graphics that could be done using the computer graphics method and the ones that should be hand drawn. Committee members recommended that the embossed computer graphics method be used for simple shapes such as, squares, triangles, bar graphs, but not for more complex graphics requiring multiple textures, circles, angles, X-Y coordinate planes, maps, shaded groupings, etc.

Scanning Tasks Simplified
There were several test items which involved scanning tasks. In print reading passages, words were underlined and the students asked, for example, "the underlined word in the passage means..." In braille, the paragraphs containing underlined words were numbered. The test item was modified to tell the student: "In paragraph (3), print page a24, the word means.."

General Notes:

  • If sample questions are unnumbered in print, the braille sample test item should begin in cell one with no number.
  • When a picture is used as a focusing technique and is randomly placed on the page, the picture description should be placed after the centered heading of the story.
  • If picture descriptions are included in a test, the following note should be placed on the transcriber's note page: "When a test item contains a picture, the picture has been described in braille. If you wish to have the description read aloud, ask your teacher."
  • All words that are double capped or bold faced to show emphasis, will be italicized in braille.
  • Charts and tables should be kept on one page, even if this means leaving large empty spaces on the previous page.
  • Short passages and questions should be kept with answer choices on the same braille page, even if this means leaving large empty spaces on the previous page.
  • Periods should be placed after all question numbers and answer choice letters even if there are no periods in print.
  • If the print test instructs the student to "Mark your answer ." The braille version will say "Write your answer."


  • When a reading passage contains underlined words, the word should be italicized in braille. A paragraph number should be inserted, and enclosed in parenthesis at the margin before the paragraph containing the underlined word. A line should be skipped before the paragraph number in all instances except when a cell 5 heading precedes the numbered paragraph. In this case the cell 5 heading, will be followed by the number enclosed in parenthesis followed by the cell three paragraph entry.
  • The underlined (italicized) word should fall on the same braille page as the number of its paragraph. If a reading question refers to an underlined word in the passage, the question should be modified to reflect the paragraph number and the print page containing the word (i.e. In paragraph (3), print page a24, the word ...)
  • If the reading selection contains a table, chart or graph, the entire table, chart or graph must be on one braille page and the question referencing the table, chart or graph should be modified to say, On print page a53 the table...

Subject Area Information: MATH

  • If answer choices are to be displayed in 4?corner style on an page, they should be in the following order:
  • If the 4-corner style of placing answer choices is used, consider drawing lines separating the four areas on the braille page.
  • All right angles on graphics need the right angle notation.
  • In braille transcribed tables where the full braille cell "=" is used to represent an amount for counting, place one braille space in between each full braille cell.
  • If the print table contains a key: e.g. "Each ? represents 10 puppies." The braille equivalent "=" the braille equivalent = should be substituted for the print symbol and the key should be moved under the title of the table/graph and placed in cell 5If the print does not include this statement, enclose the statement in \\tn symbols and place in cell 7 with runovers in cell 5.
  • When tally marks are used for counting, use underscore marks in braille should be used "_" with no space in between them unless they are shown in groups of five in print. If that is the case, a space should be placed in between each set of 5 tally marks.
  • Number lines in tests for third through fifth grade will be hand drawn.
  • Number lines in tests for grades 6 through exit level will be done on computer using the mathematical number line designations. If only one or two number lines appear in a test, insert the number line transcriber's note explaining all the symbols used, just before the question where the number lines are presented. If several number lines are found throughout the test, the number line transcriber's note and symbol descriptions should be placed on a special symbols page.
  • For test items that instruct students to count the number of blocks shown (one hundred, strips of ten, and units of one), a transcribers note will be included stating the h stands for hundred, t for tens, and o for ones.
  • Test items showing base ten blocks with shaded squares will be hand drawn with raised dots showing the shaded areas.

Subject Area Information: WRITING .

  • A note on the transcribers note page will be included to, Numbers, without number signs, appear in the right margin on the line in which numbered items begin.
  • When a writing passage contains underlined words, the words will be italicized in braille and the question number will be placed on the line where the underline (italics) begins.