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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Testing Deaf Students in an Age of Accountability

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Mike, an eighth-grade student seated next to Joey, is worried about meeting the standard on the test to avoid mandatory summer school. He has been a student at DSD since age 5. Mike’s parents have remained involved in his education and have learned basic communication skills in sign language. Most of Mike’s deeper linguistic competence has come from his peers and teachers. He is currently performing on a sixth-grade level across all content areas, and today, he will take the eighth-grade test with some accommodations.

On the other side of the room, Julia wonders whether all of her hard work and effort will earn her a diploma with distinction. Julia is a 16-year-old sophomore who has been a part of the DSD program since she was an infant. She has had early and ongoing access to meaningful language and communication, which has fostered her linguistic and cognitive development and has set the foundation for lifelong learning and academic success. She will participate in the tenth-grade assessment and will likely exceed the standard in all areas.

Although the preceding student information is contrived, it mirrors the reality not only at DSD but also in schools and programs for deaf students across the country. The issues and challenges described here and throughout the chapter are based on real, everyday experiences associated with testing and accountability at DSD. These profiles clearly illustrate the diversity of deaf students served and some of the challenges that educators face related to curriculum access, instructional strategies, and assessment.

Rigorous standards for achievement, high expectations for all children, and closing the achievement gap with fair and equitable measures of progress are goals shared by educational leaders, parents, and community members, including those involved with the education of deaf children. Discussion in this chapter about some of the unique challenges confronted when educating and assessing deaf students in the age of heightened accountability should not be interpreted as, or used as, arguments against having high standards of accountability. In fact, efforts to find ways to ensure equitable inclusion of deaf students within assessment and accountability models are a strong indication of a commitment to high expectations for learning and standards of achievement.

Too often, an inordinate amount of time and energy are expended on articulating and admiring the problem rather than seeking solutions. This chapter will identify challenges and problems related to equity and fair access to assessments for deaf children, but more important, it will explore possible actions and solutions.


During the past two decades, there has been an unprecedented push for educational reform in the United States for all students. This push for standards-based educational reform has resulted in the creation of national and local academic standards, curriculum alignment, and the development and administration of standardized assessments for all students. Many states have initiated accountability systems to monitor progress and to hold students, schools, and districts accountable. The reauthorization in 2001 of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 has rapidly increased the push for reform and, despite controversy and local protest, appears to be a catalyst in closing the achievement gap.

In 1998, approximately 4 years before NCLB was signed into law by President George W. Bush, the Educational Accountability Act was passed in Delaware and set in motion a plan for student and school accountability based on performance results from the DSTP. Although there have been a number of changes and amendments to the original legislation, the state of Delaware remains poised to hold students, educators and schools accountable. Performance on the DSTP dictates local school accountability ratings accompanied by rewards and sanctions, guidelines for promotion and retention, mandatory summer school, and diploma options for students.

Testing is conducted on an annual basis in reading, math, and writing for students in Grades 2 through 10, with retesting in Grades 11 and 12 as necessary. Science and social studies are assessed in Grades 4, 6, 8, and 11. Meeting the standard in these areas may eventually be tied to diploma requirements.

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