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Educational Evaluation of Deaf Children

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When reviewing your child's evaluation results, you may see scores reported by "G.E." which is stated on tests forms to mean "grade equivalent" and by percentile. If you are unclear about those types of measurements, please consult with a trained professional. However, I believe it is appropriate for me to state that while I am aware that there is considerable confusion regarding the meaning and interpretation of grade equivalency, the meaning of percentile ranking is clear. Tabulating all the scores of the test-takers of the given instrument, an individual's percentile rankings reflect the student's rank compared to all the other test takers. If a student ranked in the 40th percentile in a given area, this means that compared to all the other test-takers, 40 percent scored at or below that student's score, while 60% scored at or above that person's score.

As a parent advocate, I find percentile rankings particularly helpful for assessing not only the student's gross progress from year to year, but also for comparing the student to other students of the same age/grade. This is particularly significant because if, in a given area, a student ranks in the 60th percentile one year, the 54th the next, the 41st the next and the 29th the next, there is cause for considerable concern that the student's mastery of a certain area, while starting at an above average rank, has failed to keep pace with his or her peers, such that the gap between the student's achievement and the norm, is increasing, despite progress reported by the grade equivalency scores.

If one were to graph these scores, the average (mean) would produce a graph with a slope of one (1/1), with one year's progress (rise/numerator) over one year's time (run/denominator). Therefore, a student whose graph of scores shows a slope of greater than one is making greater than average progress, while one with a slope of less than one is making less than average progress. For an in-depth explanation of this, please reference:

Understanding Tests and Measurements

Some children's scores may present somewhat of a problem, inasmuch as the same test instruments were not consistently used each year. Being different instruments, they are not exactly equivalent, and therefore do not precisely indicate the degree of the child's progress. However, if all the tests are nationally normed and standardized, the data does provide you with a rough measure of progress. I suggest that you discuss this with a trained professional.

A Note from Listen Up: We recently received an e-mail demonstrating this very problem. A child's score from the previous year on the PPVT (Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test - normed on hearing children) was compared to this year's test score from the CPVT (Carolina Picture Vocabulary Test - normed on deaf children) and the school used this to prove progress in vocabulary.

Regarding the use of the SATHI, which to my knowledge is the only standardized achievement test normed solely against a hearing impaired population (scores are reported as compared to hard of hearing and also profoundly deaf test-takers), as a parent advocate, I cannot support its use. Neither can I support the use of language tests normed solely against other deaf and hard of hearing students. You have the right to request that other standardized testing be administered, and have the right to have such services included in the IEP in order to ensure implementation. In fact, services not specifically included in the IEP can not legally be provided.

If your child's IEPs clearly indicates that s/he is being educated in an HI categorical or mainstream classroom, while utilizing a regular education curriculum leading to a high school diploma, consistency and logic dictate that any and all academic testing necessitates test instruments also used in a regular education curriculum. This means eliminating the use of the SATHI, which is only used with members of the hearing impaired population, as well as any language tests solely for use with deaf/hard of hearing students.

In general, however, I oppose using any test instrument normed solely against a hearing impaired population (with the exception of non-verbal scales [TONI] when testing IQ) for two reasons. First, I find the entire concept discriminatory: One cannot find a separate test for other disability groups. There are no special tests for blind, autistic, learning disabled or physically impaired populations. Second, this is a hearing world and the deaf must live in it. As with all statements that demonstrate a firm grasp of the obvious, the reality is inescapable.

The implications for deaf students are clear. In the "real" world, deaf persons' achievement and performance are evaluated against the same standards as everyone else in the general population. Deaf students wishing to receive a state-endorsed high school diploma are not given a special proficiency test normed solely against other deaf students; deaf persons taking any kind of qualification test, whether it be for a driver's license, a teaching certificate, an auto repair license, a post-secondary entrance qualifying exam, a beautician's license, etc., are tested with an instrument using general-population standards. Aptitude and vocational tests do not have separate norms for a hearing impaired population. The ability to read and compute at a certain minimum of proficiency, for example, is required for most test-taking, and for successful performance in most jobs above the manual laborer level. Deaf individuals are not judged against a separate level of performance normed only against their own population group. Therefore, to assess a deaf student's achievement and progress toward academic and vocational goals also requires that one compare the individual's achievement, performance and progress against the same general-population standards that are used outside of an HI classroom.

It is my belief that educational programs for the deaf encourage the exclusive use of deaf norms for the purpose of concealing an appalling lack of achievement and progress. The Report of the National Commission on the Education of the Deaf to the President and Congress of the United States (COED) reported that education for the Deaf in the US is unacceptable. When one looks at the achievement levels of deaf individuals compared to the general population, one must conclude that the statement made in the COED report also demonstrates a firm grasp of the obvious. Given the widespread nature of low academic achievement by deaf students, while understanding the I.Q. range within the population of deaf individuals is the same as that range of I.Q.s within the general population, one cannot continue to blame an individual deaf child for a poor showing, but one must indict the system which created and perpetuates it.

Looking at HI norms alone not only conceals the true nature of the student's achievement, but attempts to assert that poor achievement for any individual deaf student must be acceptable, because, in fact, it is the norm, and is expected. It must not be the fault of any specific program or service-provider, because it is the norm. Furthermore, such reasoning clearly implies that illiteracy is an inherent by-product of deafness. It is my belief that this is specious reasoning at best, intentional duplicity at worst.

I suggested that you request an academic profile using a complete battery of sub-tests for your child. In addition to indicating a overall level of achievement in the major subject areas (reading, language, mathematics, science, social studies) the sub-tests will indicate the levels of achievement in those sub-categories which together make up each major area. This is critical for the development of IEP goals and objectives, which are required by federal law to be based on the student's present level of academic performance. The sub-tests will also provide you with data indicating your child's areas of strength and weakness within each subject area, which data is critical for the development of the educational program.

Additionally, many special education programs routinely develop goals and objectives only in the student's deficit areas(s). For children who are deaf or hard of hearing, it is assumed that only language, speech, reading, and mathematics need to be evaluated. If all academic areas are not evaluated, one cannot determine if they are areas of deficit or not. While, to my knowledge, there are no tests for writing that return a standardized score, there are writing tests that can provide useful information about the child's writing skills, areas of strengths and weaknesses, and whether or not writing is also a deficit area for the child. (The Test of Written Language [TOWL] is one such evaluation instrument.)

Parents are critical participants in the IEP process, and are, in fact, equal partners with the local educational agency, as mandated by IDEA. While you rely on educational personnel to provide you with objective data and personal observations, your own experiences and observations of your child are equally valid in the development of an IEP and educational services for your child. Anyone who would indicate otherwise is not only acting in an unethical fashion, but also in an illegal one. You and your child are the ultimate consumers of the public education product, but more importantly, you and your child, and none of the education personnel, must live with the results of his education, which will be a critical determinant of his future.

Those who would purport to make professional recommendations regarding programming and services for deaf students should not only be trained in the field, but be able to freely and skillfully interact and communicate with the student, independent of interpreters. In this nation, one cannot find any general education administrator, professional or para-professional service provider, who cannot fluently communicate in English, the language of the classroom. One should not have lower standards for deaf children whose language is sign.

If you are considering ethical principles, please consider that anyone legally and ethically charged with making educational recommendations relative to any area, and accepting payment for performing same, should possess genuine expertise in that area, whether it be deafness, blindness, sign language interpreting, ADHD, or any other condition effecting any individual child.

Finally, please be advised that as the parents of a special education student, you are enfranchised with specific rights, in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Operating educational agencies are required by law to test for any suspected disabling condition which may have an adverse educational impact on the student, and to identify, test and appropriately program for individuals with disabilities, which includes every disability confirmed by appropriate testing. All programs and services are required to satisfy the requirements of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), as required by IDEA. Pursuant to some state law, there is an additional requirement that the programs and services required to provide FAPE be uniquely designed to maximize each student's potential. Check to determine if your state is one that has a maximum potential requirement.

 - Celeste Johnson, M.A., QA III (MI)

Please do not include this in any published material without first obtaining  permission.

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