Cultural Factors and the Achievement of Black and Hispanic Deaf Students

By Wolbers, Kimberly A. | Multicultural Education, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Cultural Factors and the Achievement of Black and Hispanic Deaf Students


Wolbers, Kimberly A., Multicultural Education


Throughout the years, the achievement levels of deaf students and their hearing counterparts have been strikingly different (Moores, 1996). Deaf students are considered a high risk population because of academic scores consistently falling far below the average hearing student's in reading and math, and the perpetuation of language and communication delays (Mar-schark, 1997). These achievementgap trends are similar to those noted between races, where ethnic minority students are found to achieve below white students. Both groups experience cultural disadvantages in the home and school, causing performance outcome levels to be very low compared to the average white American student.

Now, consider for a moment the struggle of dual cultural participants, deaf minority students. Not only are their achievement levels far below the average white student's, but academic levels are hardly comparable to the average white deaf student's (Stewart & Benson, 1988).

With the continually changing demographics of the United States, a greater percentage of deaf minority students are in need of educational and support services. Over 40 percent of America's deaf and hard of hearing school population are students from culturally diverse minority groups (Paez & Fletcher-Carter, 1997). More and more often today, educators are faced with the enormous challenge of eliminating cultural disparity and bridging the present achievement gap for these students.

Specifically, this article will take a closer look at the factors affecting achievement of black and Hispanic deaf students. These are the two largest deaf minority groups in the United States and they display significant cultural similarities. The intent is for the reader to obtain a clearer understanding of the cultural elements interacting with achievement and subsequently to develop strategies for instruction of this student population.

When comparing 94 grade achievement levels, black deaf students achieve at lower rates than white deaf students, while Hispanic deaf students achieve at considerably lower rates (Kluwin 1993, 1994). Traditionally, minority deaf students have demonstrated significantly lower levels of competency in reading and math comprehension tests (Cohen, Fischgrund, & Redding, 1990). In addition to low academic achievement, they have lower language skills, a higher drop out rate (Bowen, 2000), and are endangered more of being misdiagnosed as learning disabled (MacNeil, 1990; Nuru, 1993). There has been greater emphasis on placing minority deaf students in vocational tracts instead of academic ones (MacNeil, 1990; Kluwin, 1993; Bowen, 2000) and less emphasis on placing them in integrated classrooms. Hispanics and blacks remain in the self-contained/special education classrooms more often than other deaf students (1uwin, 1993,1994; Cohen, Fischgrund,& Redding, 1990).

Due to the tendency that mainstreamed students are exposed to a greater number of academic classes and difficult curriculum that is geared toward preparing a student for standardized testing and college, black and Hispanic students are at an extreme disadvantage (Kluwin, 1993). In special education classes, an educator's emphasis may remain on the vocational tract, and thereby have comparatively fewer expectations for academia (Kluwin, 1993).

Considerable literature exists as to the reasons why minority deaf, specifically black and Hispanic students, achieve at lower levels. Kluwin (1994) considers the many interacting and overlapping factors of race. The process by which families discover, accept, and manage hearing loss of a child varies from family to family, depending on cultural and religious aspects, socio-economics, and education. "Race is confounded with family affluence, maternal education levels, and marital status, all of which can impact educational achievement" (p.470).

Statistically, the black or Hispanic deaf child is more likely to have less educated parents, come from poorer and singleparent families, and have little exposure to technology devices for the deaf. …

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