Setting D/HH Standard for ‘Appropriate’ Education

By Janet DesGeorges

At a recent parent meeting one mom insisted “there should be a minimum standard of services that ALL deaf and hard of hearing kids get, so that those of us who aren’t sure what a good quality program looks like won’t have to start from scratch.”  Excellent point.  Here are some efforts that have been made towards that end.

Broad Guidance from Federal Mandate

The IDEA (Individual Disabilities Education Act) requires that a student who is eligible for special education services receives a ‘free and appropriate public education’, also known as FAPE.  Each student’s services are determined through the IEP (Individualized Education Program) process with a team that includes the input and participation of the student’s parents. It is the essence of the IDEA that supports and services for any student be individualized, based on their needs as deemed “appropriate” by the IEP team. 

The process of determining what we mean by “appropriate” relative to students who are deaf or hard of hearing is often highly subjective.  Where’s the model to work from?  Can we as a group of parents….or a coalition of deaf education experts….or anybody, anywhere come up with a basic definition of what a good quality deaf education should look like? 

Focused Directives at the State Level

In general, programming for students who are deaf and hard of hearing should encompass some common themes, quality standards and best practices that have been articulated over the years through the writing of documents, books, guidelines, and even a National Agenda.  More often than not, these resources never filter down to a parent’s working knowledge of deaf education, and thus are not actively advocated for at the individual level. 

In Colorado, for example, a coalition of stakeholders created “Colorado Quality Standards” designed to identify, assess, plan, and provide appropriate educational services to all children who are deaf or hard of hearing in Colorado. It is also intended to assist in monitoring programs for these students. There are 36 standards laid out in the document that include the ‘standards’ for  assessment, continuum of placement options, proficiency of staff and many other areas. The following is an example of one of the quality standards in this document.

Standard 19: Staff Qualifications

Deaf and hard-of-hearing children and youth, birth through age twenty-one, including those with multiple disabilities and blindness, are instructed by early intervention providers and teachers who are specifically trained and/or licensed to teach these individuals

The early intervention provider or teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing should demonstrate competency in all of the state-identified knowledge and skill areas to provide instruction and services, birth to 21, that meet the developmental, linguistic, communication, academic, social-emotional and transition needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children and youth and their families. Each early intervention provider must have the appropriate credential and each teacher must be licensed by the Colorado Department of Education in deaf education or other appropriate endorsement area.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing students for whom the IFSP/IEP team has determined that a generic early intervention program or the general education classroom is the most appropriate placement should receive sufficient consultative support, direct instruction, or both, from an early intervention provider or itinerant teacher of deaf and hard of hearing.

Early Education Provider

The development of positive family-child relationships during a child’s early years is critical to the child’s later cognitive, linguistic, and social-emotional growth. The child’s full access to communication is integral to the development of a positive family-child relationship. Therefore, it is critical that teachers in early education deaf and hard-of-hearing programs focus their service delivery on the family as well as on the child. These teachers must be licensed teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, or early childhood providers and must also have the competencies related to the provision of services to infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families.

Typical duties may include but are not limited to:

  • Working as a part of a multidisciplinary team in the assessment of the child’s needs and the development of the individualized family service plan (IFSP) or individualized education program (IEP)
  • Providing direct and consultative services to the child and the family, as determined by the IFSP/IEP, to facilitate the development of communication and cognitive skills
  • Providing ongoing access to informational programs that help the family learn about hearing loss, assessment, amplification options, communication options, education options, legal rights under state and federal special education laws, and resources and community services available for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Center-Based Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The center-based program teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing is primarily responsible for the specialized direct instruction of assigned students. In addition to providing instruction, the center based program teacher should assume responsibility for the basic coordination of the students’ programs. This teacher also assists the general education teacher, the principal, and the parents of the students in the program. Furthermore, the center-based program teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing must respect and be proficient in the language mode(s) of the students s/he is responsible for.

Typical duties may include but not be limited to:

  • Assessing students in pre-academic/academic achievement, making recommendations for academic goals and objectives for the IEP, and providing academic instruction to the students
  • Assessing students in the area of language and communication skills, recommending goals and objectives for language/communication skills for the IEP, and providing instruction for language and communication skills to the students (may work in conjunction with the speech/language pathologist and/or educational audiologist)
  • Teaching a deaf studies curriculum
  • Assisting in the appropriate placement of students
  • Collaborating with general education teachers and educational interpreters regarding the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the mainstream
  • Monitoring students’ progress
  • Coordinating required services for students
  • Providing daily monitoring of individual hearing aids, cochlear implants, assistive listening devices and classroom amplification devices, as appropriate
  • Providing information to teachers and parents regarding the education of deaf and hard of hearing students
  • Providing Deaf awareness and Deaf culture in-service training to general education staff and students.
  • Teaching daily living skills and independent living skills, as appropriate.
  • Coordinating transition activities for students 14 years and older.

Itinerant Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The itinerant teacher must ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing students, like all students, have programs in which they have direct and appropriate access to all components of the education program, including but not limited to recess, lunch, and extracurricular social and athletic activities.  Itinerant teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing may provide direct instruction and/or consultative services to deaf and hard-of-hearing students enrolled in general education classes, center based programs, state or charter school programs, or home or hospital programs. When appropriate caseloads for itinerant teachers are considered, factors such as mileage, direct service versus a consultation model, age of students, number of students with additional disabilities, and dynamics of the school climate must also be considered. A ratio of 1:10 to 1:24 is an appropriate caseload.

Typical responsibilities of the itinerant teacher may include but are not limited to:

  • Providing in-service training for general education staff and students regarding the specific communication and educational needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing students and ways to include deaf and hard-of-hearing students in various situations and group settings.
  • Obtaining specialized services, materials, or equipment for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to use in the general education classroom and providing specialized resources and visual aids.
  • Ensuring the inclusion of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in activities.
  • Providing instruction to deaf and hard-of-hearing students regarding their hearing loss, Deaf culture, assistive devices, and various communication methods used by deaf and hard-of –hearing individuals.
  • Facilitating opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to interact socially with other deaf and hard-of-hearing students and with deaf and hard-of-hearing role models.
  • Adapting curriculum to make subject matter accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
  • Keeping parents informed of the school curriculum and methods and techniques to reinforce language and academic development.
  • Evaluating and recommending appropriate environmental conditions, such as lighting and acoustics, to meet the unique communication needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
  • Assessing students in the areas of academic achievement, language, and communication.
  • Making recommendations for IEP goals and objectives for academic achievement, language, and communication and providing direct, specialized instruction in specific areas of need.
  • Assisting in the appropriate placement of students
  • Coordinating required services for students
  • Monitoring individual hearing aids, cochlear implants, and assistive listening devices
  • Meeting regularly with program coordinators or program specialists to discuss problems or concerns regarding programs for integrated students
  • Meeting regularly with general education teachers and educational interpreters to discuss areas of concern and to ensure communication is effective

(The Colorado Quality Standards: August 1, 2004)

Applications for Advocacy

Just having access to this one standard, a parent can fight for the delivery of instruction by competent instructors who have expertise in deafness.  Imagine applying all 36 standards to your child’s education! 

The full document (pdf) can be downloaded at:

http://www.cde.state.co.us/

Even if you live outside of Colorado, these guidelines can be useful in determining programming for any student.

There are other national resources which articulate programming for students.  The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) created a book on essential program elements for students who are deaf/hard of hearing, entitled, “Meeting the Needs of Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Educational Services Guidelines.”  This book describes considerations when designing appropriate services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, including those students with multiple disabilities. A full continuum of options is included. The guidelines represent “best practices” from the field and the book is an outstanding resource for communication and coordination among organizations on behalf of students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families.  This is a particularly poignant document to utilize in determining services, as often special education directors in a district may not be aware of what their own organization recognizes as basic services for this population of students.  This book can be purchased at:  http://www.nasdse.org.

The National Agenda for Moving Forward on Achieving Educational Equality for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students promotes a set of priorities stated as goals that are designed to bring about considerable improvement in quality and nature of educational services and programs for deaf and hard of hearing students. It is brought forward as an “agenda” or a list of things to be done in order to close the achievement gap that exists for students. The National Agenda is organized around eight goals—each with a goal area, a goal statement, background information about the goal and a series of objectives to achieve the goal. For each objective there is a rationale for its selection. This document can be downloaded at http://www.ndepnow.org/pdfs/national_agenda.pdf.

No Resources…No Excuse

Deaf education reform movements around the country can be tracked at a Hands & Voices sponsored website at www.ndepnow.org 

Many of the documents referenced in this article are sitting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust in your administrator’s office. Can you imagine what would happen if every family made it their business to read and understand them? What if every family walked through the door of their IEP meeting with a pile of these recommendations to lead the IEP discussion?  Maybe then true reform could come to our children’s education in a way that some of us have never seen before.  Imagine what could happen if we all stood together to improve programs and educational outcomes for our children  who are deaf/hard of hearing.  ~

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