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Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed

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suggested by many to be necessary to ensure the quality of interpreter services (Witter-Merithew and Dirst 1982; Zawolkow and DeFiore 1986; Stuckless, Avery, and Hurwitz 1989; Contrucci 1991; Schein, Mallory, and Greaves 1991; Sanderson and Gustason 1993; New York State 1998). Certification is one measurement of skills that should be included in an overall system of standards for K–12 educational interpreters.

Many states are addressing this issue by passing legislation that establishes state minimum standards, licensure, or both (e.g., Oklahoma Legislature 2002; Colorado Legislature 1997; Minnesota Legislature 1994; Kansas Legislature 1993; Wisconsin Legislature 1992) and some LEAs are setting their own standards (e.g., Wilcox, Schroeder, and Martinez 1990). These requirements are now finally forcing into the discussion the difficult questions of interpreter qualifications and appropriate placement of deaf and hard of hearing students in LEAs throughout the United States. This discussion is positive for the field. Once we know the qualifications of K–12 educational interpreters, we are better able to improve those qualifications and, therefore, improve access to education.

Accurate measurement of interpreting skills is certainly important. An excellent example of an interpreting evaluation system that addresses these skill areas is the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA), authored by Schick and Williams (1994). The EIPA is not only a measuring instrument that addresses specific criteria of interpreting message equivalency but also one that provides diagnostic results and recommendations for interpreter applicants, guiding them to improved performance (Seal 1998; see also chapter 10). This duality sets the EIPA apart. It is a valid means of evaluating skills (Seal 1998), designed specifically to measure interpreting work in the classroom. The EIPA, a dual-purpose instrument, is the ideal measurement tool to use for exploring the work of K–12 educational interpreters. We are then able to discuss qualifications and skills using the same language. We are then able to discuss remediation of skills using the same language. And we are then able to upgrade specific skills through strategies based on the diagnostics of the interpreters’ performance in the educational setting, also provided by the EIPA. As appropriate as this evaluation is, the results are still a “snapshot” of skills on a given day of performance in an elementary or secondary classroom situation. It does, however, specifically address in an organized format the skills needed to interpret in the K–12 setting. In other words, it establishes a benchmark.

Interestingly, even with the use of a testing instrument designed specifically for the K–12 educational interpreter, Schick, Williams, and Bolster (1999) found that 56 percent of educational interpreters did not have the minimum interpreting skills to serve as an interpreter in the classroom. Remember, these interpreters made the effort to take the EIPA and are to be commended, even if their scores were low. Nevertheless, the finding raises concern not only about the group that was evaluated but also about the working interpreters who elected not to be tested for their skills.

There is good news. Almost 49 percent of the respondents in the Johnson County Community College study of K–12 interpreters in nine western states (JCCC 2002) had taken the EIPA and reported a mean score of 3.7. This finding is encouraging. The percentage of interpreters having taken the EIPA does vary from state to state (13.8 percent to 84.6 percent) as do the mean (average) scores (3.2 to 4.1). The majority of these interpreters have taken the EIPA within the past two years, which is significant because it means that many, if not most, have taken the videotape-standardized version of the EIPA (the new and current test), and therefore, their scores can rightfully be compared with their next test. From these data, we see that the average K–12 interpreter has achieved at least a Level 3.2. However, “average” indicates that just as many interpreters are below the average (3.7) as are above it. Most likely, future EIPA testing will yield lower average scores. The reason for this prediction is that the interpreters already tested had volunteered for the evaluation and were more assertive when it came to measuring their skills. Generally, the interpreters who have procrastinated or ignored the issue will not fare as well (Yarger 2001).

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