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Performance Lags for Students With Hearing Impairments

Despite advances in technology and a greater emphasis on improving the academic performance of students with hearing impairments, these kids continue to have a more difficult time with reading, math, science and social studies, a new report from the National Center for Special Education Research concludes.

The report found that of students 13 to 19 with hearing impairments—a term they used instead of deaf or hard-of-hearing to match language in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004— 35 percent took all of their courses in general education classrooms, and regardless of their setting, most were given some type of accommodation, support, or service from their schools. That included things like extra time to take tests, technology aids, and so on.

But the study also found that "higher percentages of youth with hearing impairments scored below the mean across subtests of academic achievement compared with students in the general population." Depending on the subject, anywhere from 12 percent to 41 percent of students with hearing impairments scored above 100—the mean of the general population of youth.

Another interesting, and perhaps also troubling, revelation from the report: Teachers of general education courses reported that 41 percent of students with hearing impairments "often" responded orally to questions, which was significantly fewer than the 78 percent of the class as a whole who "often" responded orally to questions.

In addition, the researchers wrote, "Although the emphasis of much special education legislation and policy is on increasing the access of students with disabilities to general education classrooms and curricula, 64 percent of students with hearing impairments were enrolled in at least one course in a special education classroom in a typical school or a school serving only students with disabilities where all classes are considered special education."

The findings are based on somewhat old data. The study was based on information collected 10 years ago that involved about 1,000 students with hearing impairments, to represent the more than 22,001 youth with hearing impairments nationwide.

I wonder how much the experiences of students with hearing impairments has changed since students in middle school and high school studied for this report were in school.

In the last few weeks, I spoke with schools working exclusively with deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Pennsylvania, where administrators noted that despite their best efforts, their students graduate with 7th- or 8th-grade reading skills. They are hoping applications available for the iPad will help boost their students' mastery of language arts.

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