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American Annals of the Deaf

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Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed

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Associate degrees in interpreting are not enough for the specialty area of K–12 educational interpreting. The curriculum of a basic interpreter education program simply does not include enough hours to provide adequate preparation for the specialized field of K–12 educational interpreting. Interpreting in the K–12 setting is a specialization with not only requisite skills but also requisite knowledge (see, for example, PDES 1995). Whether interpreting is performed in the elementary setting or the high school setting makes no difference. In a national survey, Burch (2002) reports that all interpreter practitioners and stakeholders realize that a bachelor’s degree for K–12 educational interpreters is “essential at all three instructional levels [elementary, middle school, and high school] of students served” (136). We must leave behind the notion that educational interpreters can be “trained.” We are not discussing preparation for a circus act. Interpreting requires an in-depth education that builds not only specific interpreting skills but also decision-making skills for professional behavior.

Bachelor-level educational interpreting programs need to be established now. These programs must require students to satisfy exit criteria that measure skills and knowledge. A few bachelor-level models currently in the field can provide examples and guidance: California State University-Fresno, College of St. Catherine, Indiana University and Purdue University at Indianapolis, Kent State University, Northeastern University, University of Arizona, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of New Hampshire-Manchester, University of New Mexico, University of Tennessee, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Western Oregon University, and William Woods University. The College of St. Catherine is a specialized program for interpreters wanting to enter the medical field. The Arizona and Kent State programs are designed specifically for K–12 educational interpreters. The other programs are “generalist” programs. Could these generalist programs add programming specialty options to meet the need for K–12 educational interpreters? Could new programs be designed to follow a distance learning model such as the EICP? Of course they could. Interpreter standards will drive the establishment of new bachelor-level programs. Comprehensive delivery and high expectations must be the goals of these new programs. Accessibility for students of interpreting (i.e., distance learning, blended delivery) needs to be evaluated to allow the largest number of qualified students to participate.

Education and professional development must be part of the in-service training for K–12 educational interpreters within their LEAs. The term in-service is inclusive, meaning in-service opportunities for K–12 educational interpreters and staff members within a Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPD), as mandated by the IDEA. In-service education must be specifically designed for K–12 educational interpreters, addressing both skills and knowledge, and provided by the LEA or offered by outside agencies contracted by the LEA.

LEAs in the United States must take the above steps. The new No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) makes it clear that the responsibility for regular education lies at the levels of the state education agency (SEA) and the LEA. This responsibility includes “setting standards for student achievement and holding students and educators accountable for results” (Paige 2002, 3). This devolution of power and responsibility is also clear for special education through the IDEA: “(C) developing and implementing a comprehensive system of personnel development needed to provide qualified personnel in sufficient number to deliver special education, related services , and early intervention services” (IDEA 1990, 104 STAT. 1114, italics added).

The time has come for partnerships between SEAs, LEAs, regional resource centers, higher education, and others to address these concerns and engage appropriate strategies for taking action. The time is now. The effort is the right thing to do for deaf and hard of hearing students if they are to have any chance of equal access to the public school system in the United States.


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