- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

JACKSON, Miss. - For all of Lynn Lane’s 17 years, she has never heard a spoken word. More importantly, she has never heard the way words fit together to form the English language.

Deaf students such as Lynn, who have relied their entire lives on sign language to communicate, often have a tough time catching on to the subtleties of the written word, which can be as hard to pick up as a second language.

Yet in Mississippi and other parts of the nation, deaf students are required to pass the same assessment tests as their hearing counterparts in order to receive a high school diploma. Though they usually can pass subjects like history or algebra, English is a roadblock that routinely delays or prohibits their graduation.

Educators at the Mississippi School for the Blind and Deaf say no deaf student has ever passed the English assessment test on the first try. The overall first-try pass rate for hearing students is 83.1 percent.

“These tests are grossly unfair to deaf students. Hearing children are exposed to so much English language from birth. Deaf students don’t get that exposure to English,” said Jean Andrews, director of graduate programs in deaf studies/deaf education at Lamar University in Texas.

Sign language is visual and isn’t always translated word for word into English.

Historically, deaf students have had a hard time taking standardized achievement tests, particularly in reading, said Ross Mitchell, a research scientist at Gallaudet Research Institute at Gallaudet University in Washington.

The institute conducts a national study of the performance of deaf and hard-of-hearing students on standardized tests. Mr. Mitchell said many of those students do not demonstrate high school level reading ability. He said that in 2003, more than two-thirds of 18-year-olds and three-fourths of 17-year-olds nationally were reading below the high school level.

“From the standpoint of measurement, there are a lot of questions about whether or not the tests that states have adopted are appropriate for special populations,” Mr. Mitchell said. “You don’t compel students by law to show up to school only to denigrate them.”

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