Education Week - July 19, 2017 - 17
Literacy at the Forefront
Hauser and other critics of the study also
noted that it did not attempt to measure parents' facility with sign language. In the study, all
types of sign language were grouped together,
including American Sign Language and a number of variants that may use fewer words and
simpler, or no, grammar. If parents have rudimentary signing skills, that could play a role in
how well their children are gaining spoken English and literacy skills, Hauser said.
Geers said that the point of the study was to
meet parents where they are, and that sign language proponents have argued that any use of
sign language can be helpful for children. Her
findings suggest otherwise, she said, though
short-term signing doesn't appear to be detrimental. But the goal should be to have children focus
on the face and mouth, not the hands, she said.
"If parents just focus on learning how to stimulate spoken language in their child, these kids
seem to be learning to talk faster, they seem to be
learning to hear speech at a faster rate, and it's
easier for people to understand them," she said.
The study's findings arrive when language
and literacy acquisition are at the educational
forefront. The Thirty Million Words Initiative,
an advocacy effort built around getting more
parents to have meaningful conversations with
their children, is directed by Dr. Dana Suskind.
Her interest in the issue was driven by her work
as a cochlear implant surgeon. Another grassroots effort, Language Equality and Acquisition
for Deaf Kids, or LEAD-K, is working to ensure
deaf children are exposed both to American Sign
Language and to English.
Not all parents see speech acquisition as a primary goal, even if their children use implants.
Jennifer Redmore, who lives in Binghamton,
N.Y., has a 5-year-old daughter with cochlear implants. After misdiagnoses as a baby, her daugh-
in the districts until people adjust."
Count Ignacio Ruiz among the
Ruiz, the assistant superintendent
for ELLs in the Clark County, Nev.,
schools, expects the change to be
significant for his district's 61,000
After the 2015-16 school year,
roughly 16 percent tested high
enough to exit English-support
That percentage dropped to less
than 8 percent in the latest round
of testing. That means about 5,400
fewer students tested out of support
A More Accurate Test?
Similar scenarios have played out
in districts around the country.
From Baltimore to Boise, Idaho,
fewer students have transitioned
out of English-support classes. With
fewer students moving out of Eng-
ter Ann received her implants at 27 months. Ann
uses American Sign Language as her primary
mode of communication, with her local school district providing speech therapy and an interpreter
at the Catholic school she attends.
Redmore has an unusual perspective-her own
mother is postlingually deaf, meaning that she lost
her hearing after she learned to talk. For her, Ann's
speech development is important, but not as important as gaining access to language and literacy.
"I don't think there's a downside to being bilingual," Redmore said. "We always felt that communication and language and literacy are what are
important for Ann and for us, and speech-we'll
Grace Kowal, one of the children tracked through
the study, could be a poster child for early intervention. Though she used sign language as a toddler,
she was enrolled as a child in a private Washington, D.C., school, the River School, which provides a
rich auditory environment for young children with
cochlear implants. About 10 to 15 percent of the
student body has hearing impairments, and the
rest have typical hearing. The program served as a
"total immersion" program for speech and hearing.
There, she learned that "it was completely normal for you not to be able to hear as well as your
peers. It let me accept myself as I was." And it also
taught her how to advocate for herself.
Grace, a lacrosse-loving rising 10th grader, is
fully mainstreamed in her public District of Columbia high school, and her speech and literacy is
on par with, or exceeds, that of her hearing peers.
But, she said, "I hope the Pediatrics article doesn't
persuade parents not to sign with their kids."
HOW DOES A COCHLEAR
A cochlear implant is a biomedical device that provides
a sense of sound to people with severe-to-profound hearing
loss. Audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and others
play key roles in teaching users how to maximize their use
of the devices.
The device, which is surgically implanted in the cochlear,
or auditory, nerve, includes:
n A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
n A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds
picked up by the microphone.
n A transmitter and receiver-stimulator, which receive signals
from the speech processor and converts them into electric
n An electrode array, which is a group of electrodes that
collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them
to different regions of the auditory nerve.
SOURCE: The National Institute
on Deafness and Other Communication
Speech Processor *
educators face the prospect of educating hundreds, if not thousands, more
ELLs than district leaders budgeted
and planned for.
That's most likely a result of more
states, including WIDA-member districts, leaning almost exclusively on
to determine when students no longer need extra English support.
"While this test is more rigorous,
we think in the long run it's a more
accurate test," said Stacey Roth,
Boise's administrator of student programs. "We want to ensure that our
kids truly have reached proficiency."
But sometimes that's not even
enough to determine when students
are ready to move on. Research from
the federal Regional Education Laboratory at WestEd has found that
middle- and high-school-age English-learners who are deemed proficient still often struggle to grasp
medical professionals being overly optimistic
that a deaf child will learn speaking and listening skills," said Hauser, who is the director of
the Center on Cognition and Language at the
National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The
institute is housed at the Rochester Institute of
Technology in New York.
Some children do develop speech and language
skills with cochlear implants, Hauser said. Others, however, do not. And when educators and
professionals then suggest learning a sign language, "it is often too late, as the language acquisition critical period is passed. The child will end
up having some non-native language difficulties
that has long-term consequences on their education and well-being," Hauser said.
* Electrode Array
Illustration courtesy of the National
Institutes of Health, Department
of Health and Human Services
In acknowledgment of that research and other data, ESSA requires
states to monitor former Englishlearners for four years, two years
longer than what was previously
"It's not just about the proficiency
piece, but that we have the right
information to get students to proficiency," Ruiz said. "We want to make
sure that when we say a student is
exiting, that will translate to them
being able to have success in those
While Ruiz supports the tougher
standards, he's worried about students, including long-term ELLs-
those not considered proficient after
years in U.S. schools-who may become frustrated at the prospect of
another year in support services.
In Boise, educators saw fewer
elementary students reclassified as
proficient, even those who are clearly
bilingual, because their writing skills,
like those of almost all children in
that age group, are still developing.
Educators and advocates remain
worried about other potential pitfalls
of relying on a single assessment.
A report written for CCSSO concludes that states should use at least
two measures, including observations of how students use language
in classroom settings, to determine
whether a student no longer needs
Prior to ESSA, most states had a
mishmash of ELL exit procedures,
with districts often deciding when the
students no longer needed support.
With the new law's aims to make policies consistent, fewer states may rely
on teacher input or evaluation-making tests such as ACCESS 2.0 the only
way out of English-support classes.
"States really need to pay attention to these students. Many are trying," said Cook, the WIDA research
director. "Ultimately, we rely on our
member states to support the decisionmaking with the data."
While this test is more
rigorous, we think
in the long run it's
a more accurate test.
We want to ensure
that our kids truly
Student Programs Administrator
Boise, Idaho School District
EDUCATION WEEK | July 19, 2017 | www.edweek.org | 17