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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed

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Jones, Clark, and Soltz (1997) studied all K–12 educational interpreters (n = 222) working in public schools in three midwestern states. Qualifications, as defined by skills (measured by means of a certification mechanism), education, and experience, were lacking. Sixty-three percent held no certification; 36% of this group had attended some college but had earned no degree. Sixty-five percent had been working in the classroom for five years or less. In addition, 57 percent of the total numbers of interpreters were not evaluated for their interpreting skills before being hired, and 25 percent of the total had never been evaluated for their skills.

The above findings might have been understandable, albeit distressing, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, the problem of interpreters lacking qualifications remains virtually unchanged today. This alarming fact begs the question, Why? Why, a decade later, are students still being subjected to substandard services in interpreted education?

In 2000, the state of West Virginia found that 81 percent of the state’s K–12 educational interpreters held no certification. Seventeen percent held certification through the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), but 75 percent of those held NAD Level 2 certification, which is classified as “below average performance” (WVCDHH and WVDOE 2002).

Jones (2001) again gathered the same types of information asked for in his previous study (Jones, Clark, and Soltz 1997) of 108 students enrolled within the Educational Interpreting Certificate Program (EICP) at Front Range Community College, Colorado (see Johnson and Winston, 1999, for more information about this program). These students were working interpreters, employed in public school systems in ten states. Fifty percent did not hold any certification; 43 percent had attended some college before EICP admittance but had earned no degree; 40 percent had been on the job for 5 years or less; and 58 percent were not evaluated for interpreting skills before being hired as K–12 educational interpreters. Further, 31 percent had never been evaluated for their interpreting skills before enrollment in the EICP.

What makes these findings even more distressing is that this group of 108 interpreters was a cohort of individuals who had taken the initiative to improve their skills and knowledge by attending an organized program of study. Although their actions were admirable, the fact that the education system did not require this training is distressing. The encouraging news is that these working interpreters were required to take an entrance exam for the EICP. This exam, loosely referred to as a “modified EIPA (Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment),” did not include the evaluation of sign-to-voice interpreting skills. However, it did measure voice-to-sign interpreting skills, and these interpreters had to obtain at least a level 2.0 (on a five-point scale) to gain admittance to the EICP. Although the level of 2 is somewhat nebulous, it is a beginning point. This beginning point is, unfortunately, somewhat low in the total scheme of things; the “Profile of Skill at Each Rating Level of the EIPA” describes a Level 2 as an “Advanced Beginner” who “demonstrates only basic sign vocabulary and these limitations interfere with communication. . . . An individual at this level is not recommended for classroom interpreting” (Williams and Schick 1999, 4).

Yarger’s (2001) study of sixty-three educational interpreters working in two rural states showed that, although none were certified, 73 percent had been evaluated for their voice-to-sign interpreting skills (sans sign-to-voice skills) as a part of the EICP enrollment (minimum score of 2.0) process. At the very least, we can gain some understanding of the skills (or lack of skills) exhibited by these working interpreters and establish a benchmark. Although this minimal step would be somewhat encouraging, one must still be discouraged to note that K–12 interpreters are working with skill levels that are inadequate.

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