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A Philosophy for Assessing The Language Proficiency of Hearing-Impaired Students to Promote English Literacy Barbara Luetke-Stahlman In the last decade, educators and parents have taken many positive steps in accepting hearing -impaired students as "people who are Deaf" (capitalization denotes minority group identity) rather than "people who cannot hear." That is, the goal of intelligible speech no longer appears to be the major focus of the educational system. Rather, students are being encouraged to communicate in their natural modality of sign, 65% of those who teach hearing-impaired students are using a form of English in sign for instructional purposes (Jordan, Gustavson, & Rosen, 1976), and school curriculum is beginning to focus on subject content and the mastery of English literacy skills. A positive change of public attitude toward the Deaf is evidenced by the advent of captioned T. V.; the employment of a Deaf adult to teach regular sign vocabulary without voice on the daily children's program, "Sesame Street"; and New York's hosting of the successful play, "Children of a Lesser God," which stars a mute Deaf woman in the major role. Seemingly, the "Hearies," as the Deaf call hearing people, are beginning to respect the minority language (the language of signs) of the hearing-impaired culture. The next step is for parents and educators to understand the value of using sign as a base language on which to teach the English literacy skills so desperately needed by hearing-impaired students. Less than a decade ago, educators of hearing bilingual students in this country were in a similar situation: They were becoming convinced of the value of using Spanish or a Native American language to teach English. It therefore seems logical that educators in the field of Hearing Impairment should evaluate both the language and/or system (L/S) proficiency of hearingimpaired students and the research from the field of Bilingual Education concerned with effectively using a first language to teach a secThe author is an Assistant Professor and the Head of the Hearing Impairment Program, Department of Counseling and Special Education, University of Nebraska in Omaha. ond language. It is the purpose of this paper, then, (a) to review the oral bilingual literature in terms of defining bilingual language ability in hearing-impaired students, and (b) to review some basic concepts of oral bilingual proficiency assessment as they apply in the field of Hearing Impairment. Such a review can assist in the endeavor of appropriately assessing the L/S skiUs of hearing-impaired students and aid in establishing a rationale for effective classroom placement of these children. A logical first step in determining how language proficiency and classroom placement decisions for oral bilingual students can be applied and adapted to fit the needs of hearing-impaired students would be to compare oral, oral/manual , and manual bilingualism. In order to do this, the concepts of "bilingualism," "language proficiency," and "bilingual education" need to be examined. DEFINING BILINGUALISM Although bilingualism can generally be described as the use of two different languages, researchers involved with the study of different languages and dialects disagree not only on the degree of linguistic proficiency required for bilingualism, but on how it can be measured. In the field of Hearing Impairment, "bilingualism" refers to the use of two distinct natural languages (Swedish sign language and oral and/or manual English), while "bimodalism" refers to two modalities (e.g., an oral, manual, or written mode of language) of communication. As long as the criteria for "bilingualism" remain unstandardized in language studies in both the fields of Bilingual Education and Hearing Impairment, the development of assessment tools to measure language proficiency in oral, oral/manual, and manual bilingual students will be a difficult process. While 91.7% of all hearing-impaired children have hearing parents (Schein & DeIk, 1974), unlike hearing bilingual children they may not 844 A.A.D. / December 1982 Language Proficiency of Hearing-Impaired Students acquire the native language of their parents. Luetke-Stahlman reviewed 13 studies of language acquisition of deaf children of hearing parents and found that these data reported that all such children acquired a bimodal language base. This bimodal language base was composed of gesture, sign, and oral words...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0375
Print ISSN
0002-726X
Pages
pp. 844-851
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-22
Open Access
No
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