Equal Access Includes Appropriate Accommodations During Testing

Late February 2018

Schools and teachers have recently been held accountable for the progress made by each and every student. Many state departments of education and districts have defined the accommodations that can be provided to students with special needs so that fair access, but no unfair advantage is provided.

With only 1:100 IEPs for students eligible for specialized instruction due to hearing loss, the access issues secondary to being deaf or hard of hearing are often unrecognized or minimized.  The unique needs of students with hearing loss may not be thoroughly recognized in the administrative testing policies, requiring us to advocate so that students who are DHH are tested fairly for their knowledge, and not their inability to fully perceive the test items.

Test accommodations are changes made in the test presentation or response method so that students can demonstrate what they know about the content without changing the content of what is intended to be measured. Valid accommodations produce scores for students with disabilities that measure the same attributes as standard assessments measured in non-disabled students.

The purpose of accommodations is to ‘level the playing field’, thereby improving access to the material presented in instruction and to ensure accurate assessment of student knowledge of the test material. Many students use accommodations that are commonly used by other students with special needs, such as extended time, and also use accommodations that fit the unique communication and learning needs of this population. Standardized, high-stakes testing presumes a certain level of English proficiency that is not necessarily appropriate for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. High-stakes tests have a highly verbal aspect, therefore, students with restricted language skills are at a distinct disadvantage. When expressive and receptive language levels and modalities used by students with hearing loss are considered, and how these may differ significantly from those of English-based hearing students, the need for accommodations becomes even more apparent. Reading is auditorilly based and learning to read at the same rate and to the same level of peers is often challenging. Students who are deaf/hard of hearing may be one or more years delayed in reading as compared to their typically hearing classmates. Often, decisions about what accommodations are necessary are made by IEP team members without an adequate understanding of, or training in, the impact of hearing loss on interaction and performance.

Continue reading the Late February 2018 Update

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Advocacy Notes

We Can Only Provide Self-Advocacy Skills If There Is An Academic Need – NOT!

It isn’t unusual for school teams to focus on student’s academic deficiencies. Yet a child with an adverse effect on educational performance can be found to be eligible for specialized instruction. If the authors of IDEA had intended to say ‘adverse effect on academic performance’ then they would have done so. Educational performance includes the ability to function appropriately and be fully included in the general education setting.

Analogy

If there was a low vision student that was constantly bumping into walls, desks, and people, would the school team refuse to consider eligibility for orientation/mobility skills because of a lack of academic impact? Would they let the child collide and fall down frequently without any skill development in how to manage mobility with low sight? Very unlikely. Yet children with hearing loss mishear, miscommunicate, and are often totally left out of discussions. Despite not knowing what they didn’t hear, because they didn’t hear it, students who are hard of hearing are constantly held accountable for knowing information they never perceived. Self-advocacy skills are to a child with hearing loss what orientation mobility is to a child with low vision – necessary for full participation and social inclusion in the classroom.

The disability must adversely affect educational performance per the legal definition of a child with a disability in IDEA 2004 at 20 USC 1401(3). Educational performance is not limited to academic performance. A student with a disability cannot be denied service even if there are no concomitant academic problems. The adverse effect of a communication disorder must be considered on a case by case basis in order to meet the individual needs of each student. Also, each state must ensure that a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) is available to any student with a disability even though they are advancing from grade to grade.

Note: the views expressed are those of Karen Anderson, PhD, and do not constitute legal advice.

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Equal Access Includes Appropriate Accommodations During Testing

Schools and teachers have recently been held accountable for the progress made by each and every student. Many state departments of education and districts have defined the accommodations that can be provided to students with special needs so that fair access, but no unfair advantage is provided.

With only 1:100 IEPs for students eligible for specialized instruction due to hearing loss, the access issues secondary to being deaf or hard of hearing are often unrecognized or minimized.  The unique needs of students with hearing loss may not be thoroughly recognized in the administrative testing policies, requiring us to advocate so that students who are DHH are tested fairly for their knowledge, and not their inability to fully perceive the test items.

Test accommodations are changes made in the test presentation or response method so that students can demonstrate what they know about the content without changing the content of what is intended to be measured. Valid accommodations produce scores for students with disabilities that measure the same attributes as standard assessments measured in non-disabled students.

The purpose of accommodations is to ‘level the playing field’, thereby improving access to the material presented in instruction and to ensure accurate assessment of student knowledge of the test material. Many students use accommodations that are commonly used by other students with special needs, such as extended time, and also use accommodations that fit the unique communication and learning needs of this population. Standardized, high-stakes testing presumes a certain level of English proficiency that is not necessarily appropriate for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. High-stakes tests have a highly verbal aspect, therefore, students with restricted language skills are at a distinct disadvantage. When expressive and receptive language levels and modalities used by students with hearing loss are considered, and how these may differ significantly from those of English-based hearing students, the need for accommodations becomes even more apparent. Reading is auditorilly based and learning to read at the same rate and to the same level of peers is often challenging. Students who are deaf/hard of hearing may be one or more years delayed in reading as compared to their typically hearing classmates. Often, decisions about what accommodations are necessary are made by IEP team members without an adequate understanding of, or training in, the impact of hearing loss on interaction and performance.

Access to instruction is much more than identifying if your students can hear/see what the teacher is presenting. The instructional language level used by teachers is often 1.5 grades above the student grade level, making it especially difficult for students with hearing loss who have a 6 month or more delay to fully comprehend what the teacher is saying. Access to instruction also includes thinking about the language used in the environmental print in the classroom, use of figurative language, and the language level used in textbooks. The language that the student must understand to be able to complete assignments is also a factor.

Questions to answer about student access during test taking when planning for appropriate accommodations:

1. Is the student able to access the test materials as effectively as peers without hearing loss?

2. Is the student able to demonstrate content knowledge via a variety of test formats?

3. Is the student able to respond accurately to a variety of test questions (wh-questions, compare/contrast, summarize, etc.)?

4. Can the student organize thoughts and use appropriate grammar, spelling and mechanics to clearly communicate ideas via essay-type questions?

5. Does the student budget time to allow completion of all test items?

In response to issues identified when answering the questions above, IEP teams should determine changes necessary to ‘level the playing field’ for each student who is deaf or hard of hearing.

Timing/Scheduling Changes to when the assessment is given

Setting Changes to where the assessment is given

Administration Changes to how the assessment is given

Presentation Format Changes to how the assessment is given

Response Format Changes to how a student responds to the assessment

Other Use of dictionaries/word lists/glossaries

Assessment accommodations uniquely relevant to students who are deaf or hard of hearing may include the following. Accommodations should be used in classroom instruction prior to testing to ensure that the construct measured is the content area rather than the student’s ability to use the accommodation.

  • Repeating directions (including with or without a proficient ASL interpreter)
  • Simplifying directions (including with or without a proficient ASL interpreter)
  • DVD with video or without video
  • Amplified audio recordings/auditory presentations
  • Video or streaming video of visual communication (i.e., ASL)
  • Response in sign language with a scribe
  • Augmentative, assistive, or adaptive technology
  • Computer-based, or computer-assisted testing

Accommodations are not mutually exclusive; students may use only one accommodation, or they may use many, depending upon their unique educational context and preferences. Additional factors influence accommodation patterns and effects including the student’s age, written English proficiency, and accommodation quality (i.e., interpreter proficiency or appropriateness of hearing assistance technology). Take time to review the extensive handout from NICHCY on Assessment & Accommodation found on the Accommodations webpage under Planning to Meet Student Needs in the Professional Resources section. It provides information on the big picture, deciding which accommodations a student needs, types of accommodations and more. Accommodations for Students with Hearing Loss.

Increasingly, high stakes testing requires listening to content presented on a computer. What do you need to do to make this type of testing accessible to the student with hearing loss? The webpage Connecting Hearing Devices to Computers or iPads provides extensive suggestions for ways that a student can listen effectively through a computer or iPad, including through streaming or Bluetooth systems, headphones or the use of silhouettes. Be sure to look through this information to be sure that you have really addressed all your student’s computer access needs!

It is a tremendous challenge to make peer discussion fully accessible to students with hearing loss due to the distance, noise and multiple talker issues. No technology at this point handles access to peers well. Although there are pass around microphone available to use with FM systems, these options are often under-used by most teachers. Access to instruction, including peer discussion, still relies on the classroom teacher keeping in mind that special consideration is needed by the student with hearing loss.

The Access to Instruction Checklist in the Teacher Tools Materials Just for Members Library is useful for discussing the different aspects of instructional access with teachers, and results in a score that can be interpreted to mean the level of necessity for accommodations and adaptations. This checklist is also in Chapter 7 of Building Skills for Success in the Fast-Paced Classroom, which deals with Instructional Access throughout the chapter.

Resources

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Auditory / Sign Language Skill Development

Early February 2018

Providing communication access to students often includes auxiliary aids and services, like hearing aids, FM/DM hearing assistance technology, and/or sign language interpreters. Yet we cannot assume that students are using these accommodations as well as they need to if they are to access information optimally.

Although students who are hard of hearing now receive hearing aids at much younger ages than they did in decades past, they still will not learn all of the auditory skills hierarchy (by age 4 as their hearing peers do) – unless direct teaching occurs.

A student may have been raised with ASL as his primary language, or he may be in a ‘learn as you go’ situation with this communication modality added later in early childhood. Understanding what the interpreter is signing is a prerequisite for this accommodation to truly provide communication access.

Just because we provide hearing devices and/or an interpreter, does not mean the student can use this input effectively.

This fact may come as an ‘aha’ to administrators and educators who ‘see that the child can hear’ or ‘see that the child watches the interpreter.’ Optimizing how well the student is able to benefit from the communication that they perceive only makes sense if we are to truly ‘level the playing field’ and provide an appropriate education to students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The PARC: Placement and Readiness Checklists for Students who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing include a General Inclusion Checklist and an Instructional Communication Access Checklist that are useful in identifying the level of access and readiness of students, regardless of their communication modalities. There are specific Placement and Readiness Checklists for Preschool/Kindergarten, Elementary, and Secondary grade students. Finally, there is the Interpreted/ Transliterated Education Readiness Checklist that iterates many factors that go into a student being able to fully benefit from a sign language interpreter or cued speech transliterator.

Continue reading the Early February 2018 Update

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Auditory / Sign Language Skill Development

Providing communication access to students often includes auxiliary aids and services, like hearing aids, FM/DM hearing assistance technology, and/or sign language interpreters. Yet we cannot assume that students are using these accommodations as well as they need to if they are to access information optimally.

Although students who are hard of hearing now receive hearing aids at much younger ages than they did in decades past, they still will not learn all of the auditory skills hierarchy (by age 4 as their hearing peers do) – unless direct teaching occurs.

A student may have been raised with ASL as his primary language, or he may be in a ‘learn as you go’ situation with this communication modality added later in early childhood. Understanding what the interpreter is signing is a prerequisite for this accommodation to truly provide communication access.

Just because we provide hearing devices and/or an interpreter, does not mean the student can use this input effectively.

This fact may come as an ‘aha’ to administrators and educators who ‘see that the child can hear’ or ‘see that the child watches the interpreter.’ Optimizing how well the student is able to benefit from the communication that they perceive only makes sense if we are to truly ‘level the playing field’ and provide an appropriate education to students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The PARC: Placement and Readiness Checklists for Students who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing include a General Inclusion Checklist and an Instructional Communication Access Checklist that are useful in identifying the level of access and readiness of students, regardless of their communication modalities. There are specific Placement and Readiness Checklists for Preschool/Kindergarten, Elementary, and Secondary grade students. Finally, there is the Interpreted/ Transliterated Education Readiness Checklist that iterates many factors that go into a student being able to fully benefit from a sign language interpreter or cued speech transliterator.

Development of Auditory Skills

It is true that the earlier a child begins consistently using amplification devices, the more naturally he or she will develop auditory skills. The terrific advantage of early identification of hearing loss, early amplification, and early intervention to develop communication skills still cannot be assumed to develop all of the listening skills on the auditory hierarchy in time for school. The handout Listening Skills Develop Early provides listening skill expectations from birth to age 4. The ALL – Activities for Listening and Learning is a performance checklist for development of complex listening skills. Even those of us who have worked with students who are hard of hearing for many years may still be surprised at just how much auditory skill development occurs, without effort, by children with typical hearing.

A child with hearing loss may use hearing devices that provide the potential for to perceive enough of the speech that surrounds him to learn language. In order to meaningfully interpret what is heard, he or she must specifically learn the necessary precursor auditory skills. Poor listening skills can cause maladaptive strategies to develop (per David Sindrey) such as:

  • watching what others do instead of listening to directions
  • looking for eye gaze/gestures from the speaker instead of trying to process their words
  • guessing at meaning from context rather than listening to the whole sentence
  • choosing to isolate themselves from others during play opportunities
  • becoming dependent on a few people who act as ‘human hearing aids’
  • faking comprehension
  • monopolizing conversations

It is important to gather data on the presence and frequency of these maladaptive strategies through observation by individuals trained to recognize them or through comments in interviews of parents and school staff. These observations, along with formal assessment data, should provide a road map for auditory intervention.

Assessment is Necessary

Just as you would not develop reading skills without first knowing the child’s abilities, we must assess the student’s abilities to determine where they have developed along the auditory hierarchy.

The SPICE – Speech Perception Instructional Curriculum & Evaluation remains the best means to assess auditory development.  The SPICE for LIFE curriculum is excellent for developing the more complex auditory skills that our more language-appropriate students may still need to master. The Early Speech Perception test is excellent for basic evaluation of speech perception for young children or those new to consistent listening.  Central Institute for the Deaf, developer of these materials, has FREE WEBINARS on how to assess and develop auditory skills. There is a charge if you desire CEUs.

Development of Sign Language Skills

To people who do not sign, even a student with spotty or low sign language development appears very skilled. A strong foundation in one language is needed to meet the communication and comprehension needs in school. If a student has not been raised in families where American Sign Language (ASL) is fluently used, it is very unlikely that the child has learned to become fluent in ASL by school age.

Too often when students are ‘one and onlies’ it is assumed that the interpreter will ‘fill in’ all of the student’s communication needs. Keeping pace with the surrounding communication and delivering it at an appropriate language level is part of the role of the educational interpreter. Assessing a student’s level of sign language knowledge and systematically teaching to fill in gaps in language knowledge is the role of the teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing.

Assessment is Necessary

The White Paper: Estimating the Level of Communication Effectiveness/Access includes recommendations for how to assess the level of student knowledge of ASL. Refer to this resource for more information about determining the of communication effectiveness for students who use sign language, including the:

Knowing where the student is on the hierarchy of sign language development will provide specific areas of need to address through direct intervention.

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Advocacy Notes

504/IEP Accommodations: Is Extra Time REALLY Needed?

Question from the Field:

“I have a student who is in middle school general education with resource for math, co-taught courses for the other subjects, and added support in the classroom for anyone who may need it.  He has 2 cochlear implants and is typically an A and B student able to keep pace with his peers; however, this year is more demanding.  He is receiving so much homework that he is working from the time he gets home to the time he goes to bed around 11:30 pm. I believe he needs the modification to have reduced homework.  It takes him longer than peers to get it done and he is exhausted every day due to his extensive task of listening all day as well as all the homework.  The school team is going to fight me on this and I was wondering if you have anything that explains how this is a reasonable accommodation for a deaf student in the general education?  I am going to need a lot of support!”

Karen’s Answer:

Clearly with a history of getting As and Bs in his classes, this is not a young man who has slower cognitive abilities. Logically then, if he has the same level of access as classmates, he should be able to follow through with the homework in the same time frame. It all comes down to why it is taking him so long to do his homework.

For example:

  • Did he lack access to instruction in the classroom so that he has to try to glean from the text books what he missed in class?
  • Is it due to language issues, meaning he has so many missing words/concepts/general knowledge that he is spending a lot of time trying to use context in the readings to figure out what is being talked about?
  • Is it because of poorer writing skills, which reflect language and syntax issues?

If it is just a matter of so much more homework, then every student in those classes is facing the same thing. There IS more homework. It WILL take more time. It comes back to why he is slower in getting it done. Are there missing skills or reasons related to his deafness that cause him to work more slowly than class peers, thereby necessitating homework modifications? Do the observations, student/family interviews, functional assessment, or formal assessment as appropriate to gather the data needed to support the accommodation.

Yes, hearing loss can result in conditions, such as those bulleted above, that cause slower working times. That said, every student is unique and there is no blanket statement or body of research that will provide a justification for the accommodation, without the data that determines what the actual problem is attributable to.

Once you understand the why you can advocate for one or more of:

a) better access to instruction in the classroom

b) homework accommodations (some of everything, but fewer problems)

c) direct instruction to build the skills that are now interfering with her full participation and ability to keep pace.

If you have a question from the field, send it to karen@successforkidswithhearingloss.com!

NOTE: The information represents the opinion of Karen Anderson, PhD who is not an attorney. The information presented is not legal advice, may not be the most current, and is subject to change without notice.

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