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American Annals of the Deaf

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Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed

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Yarger (2001) states that K–12 educational interpreters “need to be viewed as professionals, and as such, held to minimum standards in regard to skill level and other areas” (25). I would suggest that K–12 educational interpreters be viewed as professionals when they have proven, by definition, that they have met at least the minimum standards. If the field of K–12 educational interpreting is ever to be viewed as professional, standards must be in place and evaluation must be the cornerstone. If not, we are subjecting deaf and hard of hearing students to amateur interpreting services. Yarger (2001) also recommends, “Expectations of interpreters’ skill levels need to be higher.” This recommendation is not enough. For expectations to be higher, we must require that all K–12 educational interpreters be measured (i.e., evaluated) for their skills and knowledge. This evaluation needs to happen now.

We have seen some progress with the establishment of standards in some states and with evaluation using the EIPA. This progress is encouraging. However, we do not know about the qualifications of at least 50 percent of working K–12 educational interpreters. This lack of information is damaging not only to the field but also to the deaf and hard of hearing students who depend on interpreting services.


Let us look at the second issue that remains a concern in our field: the notion of the K–12 educational interpreter’s job roles and responsibilities and the timing of these responsibilities. What does this issue involve?

Until the early 1990s, almost every description in the literature was based on individual or group recommendations as to what educational sign language interpreters ideally should be doing (Heavner 1986; Massachusetts Commission and Massachusetts Department of Education 1988; Jones 1989; Brazeau 1991; Contrucci 1991; Wendel 1993). However, in reality, in a small sample of thirty-two educational interpreters in western Pennsylvania, Hayes (1991, 1992) found confusion with respect to what the interpreter, the regular education teacher, the special education teacher, and the interpreter’s supervisor reported as the educational sign language interpreter’s roles and responsibilities.

Several perspectives (Moores 1984; Mertens 1991; McCreery et al. 1999) articulate these roles and responsibilities. However, both interpreters and educators continue to be confused today with respect to the roles and responsibilities of K–12 educational interpreters (Affonso 1998; Yarger 2001; Antia and Kreimeyer 2001). Stewart, Schein, and Cartwright (1998) describe the misconception:

Once educational interpreters become members of a team, it is realistic to expect them to share information they may have about the student with the other team members. Realistic, yes, but a violation of the profession’s code of ethics. Some interpreters decline to be “members of the team.” (194).

This description is stated as if there were an option for team membership. The interpreter is, by law, a member of the educational team. Transliterating-interpreting is one of four roles that the K–12 educational interpreter plays on a daily basis (Winston 1998; Jones 1999). Although interpreting is the primary responsibility of the K–12 educational interpreter, tutoring plays a significant role in the daily lives of deaf and hard of hearing students and is the second most frequent responsibility borne by the K–12 educational interpreter (Jones, Clark, and Soltz 1997; Yarger 2001). The responsibilities do not stop there. Third, the interpreter acts as an aide in the classroom and in the school environment as needed, as all school personnel are expected to do. Finally, and of significance, the interpreter also acts as a consultant. The state of Colorado categorizes the two latter roles within the catchall category of “Team Member” roles (CDE 2002), but the fact remains that aiding and consulting are important roles the K–12 educational interpreter plays.

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