Issues

Chapter Two continued...
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dominant culture through the use of the dominant spoken (and written and sometimes signed) language and through generally higher education, higher socioeconomic status, print-rich home environments that stress the value of reading, and occasionally, greater knowledge about deafness. (5) We suggest, therefore, that having genetic deafness and hearing parents can be advantageous to performance on standardized tests of intelligence precisely because such tests are standardized on school populations and their school-based knowledge.

We compared the language/communication proficiency of seventy deaf teens to their verbal IQ, as measured by a language/communication proficiency interview (LCPI) and the verbal subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children (WISC), third edition, or the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales (WAIS), revised edition, depending on the student s age. The LCPI was an adaptation of the Sign Communication Proficiency Interview described by Newell, Caccamise, Boardman, and Holcomb (1983). Each teen engaged in spontaneous conversation using a flexible but structured interview protocol. By interviewing all students in three different modalities and two languages (American Sign Language [ASL]: sign only; English: simultaneous speech and sign; and English: speech only), we were able to ascertain each student s strongest language and modality for face-to-face communication. To assess the student s ability to use language for thinking, we administered the WISC or WAIS test in the student s preferred mode of communication (Nizzero, Musselman, and MacKay-Soroka 1993).

The distribution of language proficiency scores among the teens showed that as many teens were proficient in spoken English (n = 13) as in ASL (n = 14), but only two were bilingually fluent in both (Akamatsu, Musselman, and Miller 1994). Not surprisingly, for all students, the highest score from the three interviews strongly related to verbal IQ, but not to performance IQ (Musselman, MacKay, Trehub, and Eagle 1997). In addition, some skills measured on the verbal IQ scales of the WISC/WAIS were predictive of literacy.

Both ASL and spoken English can be associated with equally high verbal IQ scores, but the teens' typical/average performance in these two languages was different. Teens who demonstrated high levels of language/communication proficiency, in either ASL or oral English, were able to use their language to think in ways similar to those of hearing people. However, the LCPI and verbal IQ scores of the majority of the teens suggest that they lack sufficient skill at using either ASL or English as effective learning tools. As a rule, students use ASL, as it is currently provided in the school systems, as an effective language for communication but not as an academic register, particularly for the kind of thinking that occurs through literacy.

Implications for Educational Reform

The key question we must address concerning the role of natural sign language and signed forms of spoken language in any plans for educational reform is: What kinds of language and what sort of communication milieu must we provide deaf children to facilitate their acquisition of literacy skills? When designing an educational program for deaf children, consider carefully the following assertions with supporting arguments:
Assertion 1: Natural sign language is both necessary and sufficient for the development of inner speech for communicative purposes as a deaf child's first language.

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