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American Annals of the Deaf

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Assessing Deaf Adults: Critical Issues in Testing and Evaluation

Judith L. Mounty and David S. Martin, Editors

from Section I: The Context

Overview of the Challenge

David S. Martin and Judith L. Mounty

A significant part of the story of American education since the 1970s has been the steady growth in the access certain groups have to services and opportunities that were heretofore closed to them because of the lack of legal protections. For persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, that increase in legal access has resulted from three specific pieces of legislation: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now known as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act), and the Americans With Disabilities Act. In different ways, these laws expanded the opportunities for all persons with disabilities, but they also gave rise to complex new issues that have been the subject of subsequent litigation and negotiation. In at least an indirect sense, the area of testing deaf and hard of hearing persons of all ages is one example of such an issue: Without the legislation, testing may not have been implemented, or individuals with disabilities may have been excluded. However, because testing is now required as part of equal access to education, new challenges have emerged related to equity and fairness in testing individuals with disabilities.


Since the mid-1990s, more and more states in the United States have implemented high-stakes testing for two purposes: as a condition of promotion, continuation, or graduation for elementary and secondary school students, and for licensure and certification of a wide range of professionals. As a result, deaf and hard of hearing adults, who previously had been denied access to certain professions, began to have such access, but increasingly they are being required to take and pass licensure examinations administered by a state agency. Colleges and universities that had excluded deaf and hard of hearing persons from their student bodies due to a lack of required accommodations opened their doors but required deaf and hard of hearing persons to take and pass certain entrance examinations in the traditional format. The inclusion movement in elementary and secondary education, as it has involved more and more deaf and hard of hearing students, has added fuel to this fire of educational testing and potential inequities for deaf and hard of hearing persons.

Thus, across all levels of education and in a number of professions, whereas testing of deaf and hard of hearing candidates or students had been a non-issue, it was now a clear issue—an ironic result of laws that were designed to be highly beneficial to all persons with disabilities. In fact, it has been reliably reported that students with disabilities consistently fail state tests at rates that are 35–45% higher than those for non-disabled students (Ysseldyke, et al., 1998). If we extend this computation, this statistic would mean that students with disabilities are failing such tests at the rate of 75–80% on their initial testing—far greater than would be expected when examining other criteria such as grade-point average.

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