Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from S.H., Illinois

I am wondering if you have any information about testing Deaf and hard-of-hearing students who come from non-English backgrounds to determine English proficiency? State laws require all students who have any other language spoken at home be tested when the enter preschool, before they leave preschool, and every year in school thereafter. The tests used by the district in preschool (Pre-IPT and WIDA-MODEL) do not allow sign language to be used, though they are spoken language and listening tests. Besides the obvious concern that students may score low because of a language delay due to their hearing loss and not just the second language at home, there is also the concern of testing students without sign when Total Communication is their mode of communication documented on their IEP. The problem is two laws colliding. The result from a low test score is a letter to parents saying their child qualifies for a bilingual or ESL classroom, though the team is recommending the DHH classroom. Do you have any information or ideas of other ways DHH students are tested to comply with state mandated ELL testing?

Question from S.H., Illinois. Posted April 9, 2013.
Response from Cheryl Johnson - University of Colorado

Let me share my experience in Colorado: As stated in this request for information, the primary area that language proficiency becomes an issue is with regards to eligibility for special education as there is a question on the eligibility form that asks if the learning problems are a result of lack of proficiency in English. In Colorado, the legal interpretation at the Department of Education is that the hearing loss trumps primary language, so that children would be eligible for special education even if they come from a family that es ASL or a language other than English in the home.

Regarding assessment, I think it would be discriminatory to provide the language assessment without the accommodation of sign when a child uses sign. The child’s primary language should also be assessed and when sign is used by the child, the assessment should be conducted by an individual fluent in the sign language of the child (ASL, Spanish, Chinese, etc.) to compare competency in the child’s primary language and in English.