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Reforms: The Impact on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students|
Table 1.1 Grade 4 and Grade 8 State Assessments, 2006
The Grade 4 and Grade 8 NCLID results for three groups—students who are deaf or hard of hearing, all students with disabilities, and students without disabilities—are shown in Table 1.1. For 2006 assessments, proficiency rates ranged from a low of 14.7% (Grade 4 English Language Arts, based on 185 students) to a high of 38.9% (Grade 4 Reading, based on 249 students). On the whole, science proficiency rates were lower than those for the other core academic areas (science was not assessed in every grade). This range of proficiency rates is a relatively small spread of scores considering assessments were for several grades (Grades 2–8) and subjects (ELA, Reading, Math, and Science). This spread is smaller than what was found when looking only at test scores for students at schools for the deaf, indicating that state disaggregations of scores may be more reliable estimates of student proficiency.
It is in this context that accountability reforms, with an emphasis on student performance on state achievement tests, come into play. The stakes are high; schools where few students meet annual benchmarks will face consequences and restrictions in how they spend their federal funds. For any school serving a traditionally underperforming (and at times, underserved) population, it can be frustrating to be measured against the state’s overall goals without consideration for how far students need to improve to reach them. This situation is further complicated for students who are deaf or hard of hearing by the unique educational needs they often have, ones more challenging to overcome than those of students without disabilities. Research in deaf education focuses a great deal on issues surrounding literacy development and cultural factors. The remainder of this chapter therefore explores some of the potential challenges that students who are deaf or hard of hearing face in attaining grade-level proficiency in reading, a gateway skill to overall academic achievement.
Reading as the Crux of the Matter
Reading skills are a critical component of compulsory education for all students because they serve as an access point for learning in many other domains. Literacy development is certainly the largest area of research in deaf education (Luckner & Cooke, 2010; Luckner & Handley, 2008). One reason for the focus on literacy is the long-standing difficulty education programs have had in teaching students who are deaf or hard of hearing how to read (Schimmel, Edwards, & Prickett, 1999; Truax, Fan, & Whitesell, 2004). It is proposed that many students who are deaf or hard of hearing do not become proficient readers because of delayed exposure to a fluent first-language base (Loeterman, Paul, & Donahue, 2002; Trezek & Wang, 2006). Strategies to improve literacy outcomes stem from a range of theories on literacy acquisition, including questions about the necessity of a phonological code as a precursor to decoding text (Nielsen & Luetke-Stahlman, 2002; Paul, 1994; Wang, Trezek, Luckner, & Paul, 2008, with response from Allen et al., 2009, and rejoinder from Paul, Wang, Trezek, & Luckner, 2009). Related aspects of literacy development, including content literacy and strategies used with students who are English Language Learners, are also a part of the discussion of how to improve literacy outcomes for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Taken together, these elements form a foundation for discussion of what needs to be considered for an overall accountability reform when it measures academic progress and constructs initiatives to close the achievement gap (for a discussion of whether reading challenges are about reading or other factors, see Marschark et al., 2009).
There has been considerable debate over the best approach to literacy instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. This debate has traditionally included discussions of phonologically based approaches to reading versus emphasis on visual reading cues, contextual evidence, and whole language approaches (Paul, 1997; Wang et al., 2008). This contrast is sometimes classified as a tension between “bottom-up” and “top-down” theories of the reading process. The bottom-up theories tend to be based on decoding English sounds and using the phonics to build reading skills (e.g., Nielsen & Luetke-Stahlman, 2002; Trezek & Wang, 2006; Wilbur, 2000). For example, in a bottom-up approach, a student might learn how to connect the pronunciation of the letter b with the printed letter at the start of the word bus. In contrast, the top-down theories focus on holistic strategies such as using natural sources of print to foster emergent reading skills, developing a world-knowledge base through native language (usually American Sign Language), and recognizing whole words (e.g., Ewoldt, 1990; Goldin-Meadow & Mayberry, 2001; Kuntze, 1998). For example, in a top-down approach, students might begin with telling a story about their dog, then work from that story to connections about the dog in pictures and then in words. The top-down approach relies less on knowing the phonological components of written English and more on access to print through other means.
Although the discussion about the emphasis on phonology continues, many researchers and practitioners now include both bottom-up and topdown elements in their recommendations for literacy instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (Evans, 2004; Maxwell, 1986; Moores & Miller, 2001; Schirmer, 2000). The discussion is particularly relevant for those students who are deaf or hard of hearing with severe to profound hearing loss who have limited access to spoken language (Paul, 1997). Depending on the individual student’s linguistic repertoire, different strategies may prove to be effective in bringing him up to grade level in reading. For example, reading instruction for beginning readers may target word recognition and vocabulary development because it is essential for later comprehension and reading fluency (e.g., Barker, 2003; Loeterman et. al, 2002; Luckner & Muir, 2002). Early reading instruction may therefore focus on a bottom-up approach to gaining the building blocks for reading. Reading instruction for older students might focus more on tying ideas to daily experiences or understanding the motivation behind the author’s intentions, reflecting a topdown approach. Best practice recommendations for combined approaches are still in the beginning stages. The heterogeneity within the population of students who are deaf or hard of hearing as well as variation in educational setting and instructional staff members make it difficult to generalize findings beyond single studies. Empirical findings on the effectiveness of specific reading instruction strategies with students who are deaf or hard of hearing, with sufficient sample sizes to draw causal connections, are only now emerging in the research literature.