Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Educational Reform Meets Deaf Education at a National Conference

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Educational Reform Meets Deaf Education at a National Conference

Article excerpt

ON NOVEMBER 15 TO 16, 2002, the Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI) sponsored the national conference "High Stakes Testing: Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children Being Left Behind?" held at the Gallaudet University Kellogg Conference Center. Three hundred people from forty-two states participated, including teachers and counselors of deaf students, school administrators, teacher educators, experts on educational testing, educational researchers, test designers, members of deaf advocacy associations, parents of deaf children, and representatives of various governmental agencies.

The conference was a major event featuring introductory remarks by Gallaudet President I. King Jordan and Stephanie Lee, the director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, a keynote address by James Popham, author of The Truth About Testing: An Educator's Call to Action and many books on testing and evaluation, and presentations by other nationally known experts on testing and testing-related issues, including Jay Heubert, co-editor of the National Research Council's High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation, Carolyn Massad, the national consultant for English language arts at Harcourt Educational Measurement, Neal Kingston, the senior vice president and chief operating officer of Measured Progress, Martha Thurlow, director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes, and Shalia Cowan, director of the Texas Education Agency's Division of Services for the Deaf. Also featured were many presentations from the "front lines" by educators of deaf and hard of hearing students.

GRI director and conference co-chair Michael Karchmer said at the opening of the conference that presenters had been selected to represent a broad range of opinion. He predicted that all in attendance would have much to learn and that consensus was unlikely. He advised attendees to keep their minds open as they weighed one perspective against another and to be prepared to change their minds.

The scope of the conference presentations was too broad to summarize adequately in a brief article. This essay, therefore, pursues a limited range of important recurring themes of the conference.

Testing and Deaf Students' Difficulties with English

Midway through a series of panel presentations by educators of deaf students on the first day of the conference, Michael (Mickey) Jones, director of the Evaluation Center at the Illinois School for the Deaf, told a story that evoked many nods of recognition. In 1992, he said, he'd participated in a task force set up in Illinois to make decisions about the appropriateness of the Illinois Goal Assessment Program (IGAP) for use with special education students. His role had been to examine the test, then inform the task force about difficulties deaf and hard of hearing students might have taking it. He had told the task force that deafness can have a severe impact on reading and writing ability and that results on the IGAP-a challenging paper and pencil test-might misrepresent the true capabilities of most deaf students. To illustrate, he had described a bright fifteen-year-old deaf boy whose performance IQ was 133 and whose math computation skills were above grade level. The boy was fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and could demonstrate a broad range of knowledge in ASL. On standardized tests, however, his reading level had been measured at six grades below the average for his hearing peers. After seeing a sample of this boy's writing, the task force had decided that deaf students in Illinois should be waived from taking the IGAP.

But that was 1992, ten years before the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was signed into law. Everyone in Jones's audience got the point: Things are different now.

"High stakes testing" is about to become a reality for deaf as well as hearing students in a growing number of states across the country. In the near future failing these tests will have serious consequences in state after state. …

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