Achieving grade-level academic skills

Typically, educators and parents expect hearing students to achieve grade-level academic knowledge and skills. The academic expectations for deaf students, though, have often been much lower. Because non-deaf education professionals are aware of the poor academic achievement among many deaf students over the past century, some may have mistakenly concluded that deaf students are destined to fail at academics.

In 1880, State schools for the deaf and both public and private schools banned the use of American Sign Language in educational instruction. Instead, nearly all schools adopted oral communication and oral deaf education strategies. While many state schools for the deaf now teach American Sign Language as the primary language and English as a secondary language, many public and private schools continue to use an oral-only approach.

Yet as data continually demonstrates, many deaf students do not benefit from an oral-only approach. Many deaf students do not have the ability to develop adequate language skills from oral-only communication. Many do not have the ability to develop intelligible speech or the ability to lip-read. For too many deaf students, an oral-only approach has been a ticket to academic failure. Too often, others begin to see these deaf students as cognitively delayed, behavior problems or lazy, instead of as language-deprived. Some of these students will only learn ASL after they have experienced years of failing from an oral language approach. It is crucial that parents and educators understand that if a deaf student is not developing effective communication skills or is not achieving grade-level academic skills, it is time to look at adding American Sign Language.

Let me share a true story with you about my deaf daughter.

One year we enrolled her in a public middle school with only hearing peers. The law required every “unfortunate handicapped” student to have a resource specialist. My daughter had one as well, but my wife and I wanted our daughter to attend her regular classrooms with her hearing peers. Although the resource specialist did not like this, we were lucky that the principal supported our wishes.

One day the resource specialist sent a note to me. She wanted me to sign an approval for my daughter to take the “hearing impaired” version of an exam instead of the test her hearing peers would take. I refused and said I wanted my daughter to take the same examination that her hearing classmates would take. The principle supported my decision but the resource specialist confronted me and told me that I had made a huge mistake. I responded that we needed to wait and see.

A few weeks later, the results of the exams arrived. I asked the principal to help me compare my daughter’s scores with the other students. Of the 2000 students that took the test, my daughter’s score was among the top 50 scores. I sent a note to the resource specialist with the test results. I never heard from her again. Oh well.

Here is my advice for parents of deaf children:

Be prepared. Gather as much documentation as possible of your child’s abilities and make sure you understand what the documentation means before the Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting.

Take charge. At the IEP meeting, if your child’s academic skills are not at grade level, what will the school do to change that? If your child is falling further behind instead of catching up with classmates, consider a change in communication or educational approach.

Being prepared and taking charge is how we ensured our daughter received a good education. We are so proud of her. Now she is one of the best teachers for deaf children.

Of the Deaf People, By the Deaf People, For the Deaf People

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