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American Annals of the Deaf

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Testing Deaf Students in an Age of Accountability

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Promotion, retention, and mandatory summer school based on DSTP test scores went into effect in 2002. Students can score in one of five categories on the DSTP based on established cut scores: 5—distinguished, 4—exceeds the standard, 3—meets the standard, 2—below the standard, and 1—well below the standard. Students scoring a 1 are required to attend summer school and be retested to be considered for promotion. Students scoring a 2 may be promoted to the next grade provided they have an Individual Improvement Plan (IIP). The Individualized Education Program (IEP) can serve as the IIP for students in special education as long as it addresses areas of need identified by the DSTP.

DSD is not exempt from school or student accountability. Students with disabilities, including deaf students, must participate in the DSTP or the Delaware Alternate Portfolio Assessment (DAPA). In Delaware, school staff members may consider providing accommodations during the DSTP, according to the Delaware Student Testing Program Guidelines for Inclusion of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners, prepared by the Delaware Department of Education (Delaware Department of Education, 2006). These accommodations may be used only if students are eligible for services under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, have an IEP or 504 Plan, and have an instructional program that includes accommodations, assistive devices, or both in the teaching process.


DSD is administered by the Christina School District and complies with all local and state requirements. The school district has established performance targets that set the expectation for all students in the district, including students at DSD, to make aggressive progress toward meeting standards in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies as measured by performance on the DSTP. Again, the issue is not with high expectations and accountability but with equitable access to fair assessments with appropriate accommodations.

The education of deaf children at DSD presents some unique challenges and circumstances that are not generally confronted by other public schools. Although all schools face the challenges of educating students from diverse backgrounds who arrive at school with varying degrees of readiness, DSD encounters student demographic variables unlike other public schools in Delaware. The composition of students at DSD includes students who come to school without competence in a first language; students who lack access to world knowledge and incidental learning; students who learn English as a second language; students with multiple disabilities; and students who face equity issues related to testing, accommodations, and accountability. Other complicating factors include the age of identification and early intervention services, as well as age of enrollment into an “appropriate” program that provides for language and communication access. Each of the aforementioned issues must be given consideration in terms of the resulting effect on equity with respect to education, assessment, and school accountability.

Early language access. Approximately 90% of all deaf children are born to hearing parents—parents who do not possess proficiency in the language most accessible to deaf children: American Sign Language (ASL). At DSD, approximately 97% of our students are born to hearing parents. Improving student achievement, therefore, involves addressing the language learning needs of our students and parents, as well as addressing the complex and diverse instructional needs of children who lack competence in any one language. The age at which students are identified with a hearing loss and receive early intervention services also has a significant effect. Students who are identified and receive services before the age of 6 months have more successful outcomes (Yoshignaga-Itano, 2000).

Access to world knowledge. Given the lack of early access to language and learning, the acquisition of world knowledge is negatively affected. Language is the cornerstone for education. Lack of free and unrestricted access to language from birth (during the critical period for language acquisition and brain development) results in a weak foundation for learning and irreparable damage to maximum educational development. It is also important to note that because the majority of DSD’s students have hearing families, their access to world knowledge is often limited because the primary language used in these homes is spoken English and is therefore not accessible to the deaf child.

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