Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students in the Mainstream

The issue

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Over 75% of deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH) students in the U.S. are mainstreamed in public school programs. About half of these students spend the majority of the school day in the general education classroom with support from an itinerant teacher of deaf or hard of hearing (TODHH). Others spend part of their school day in the general education classroom, and the remainder receiving instruction from a TODHH. DHH students in public schools may receive services from other professionals including sign or oral language interpreters. The array of services provided to a student is determined by the team that creates the Individual Education Program (IEP). For successful mainstreaming DHH students must be academically and socially integrated. To be academically integrated, DHH students need to participate in all classroom educational activities and have full access to teacher instruction and educational materials being used. To be socially integrated, they need to be able to interact with and be accepted by their classmates.

What we know

Appropriate support

Mainstreamed DHH students must be able to access all instruction and educational materials. Students who depend on auditory access need to have appropriate assistive listening devices. Some are the family’s responsibility (cochlear implants) others (classroom soundfield or FM systems) are provided by the school. Devices should be working, and used by students, teachers, and classmates, at all times. Students using sign language should have qualified interpreters who interpret all spoken communication of teachers and classmates. The classroom environment should allow good visual access allowing students to see materials (e.g., diagrams on a white board) and also watch the interpreter. Teachers of the Deaf support mainstreamed students by providing them instruction in communication skills, literacy, learning strategies, self-advocacy, and social skills. They also consult with classroom teachers on enhancing visual and auditory access.

Academic integration

Although which is cause and which is effect is unclear, DHH students who spend most of the school day in the general education classroom generally achieve better academically than DHH students in self-contained classrooms, but less well than hearing classmates. A substantial percentage of those students make one-year’s academic progress in a year’s time. Teachers’ perceive most of these DHH students as academically average. The academic performance of these DHH students is influenced by their language and communication skills, their ability to access the general education curriculum, expectations for academic success by parents and teachers, communication between parents and school personnel about support services, and consistent use of assistive listening devices. DHH students who get their academic instruction in the general education classroom indicate that they participate in the classroom most of the time. They are better able to understand their teachers than their classmates, but experience difficulty during group discussions. Students who are able to communicate comfortably in the classroom have higher academic achievement than those who cannot.

Social integration

Teachers rate mainstreamed DHH students as having average social skills. These students are as well adjusted socially as DHH students in self-contained programs. Hearing classmates do not tend to reject them; however, they may not select DHH students as friends as frequently as they select hearing peers. Some mainstream DHH students are isolated because of their inability to interact with hearing peers.

What we don’t know

Appropriate support

TODHH frequently provide instructional support to DHH students by pulling them out of their mainstream classrooms. Although the IEP team makes decisions about the amount of instruction provided by the TODHH, we know little about the actual instruction provided by the TODHH, how it supplements the general education curriculum, or research evidence about the effectiveness of supplemental instruction by the TODHH.

Academic integration

Although, as a group, mainstreamed DHH students are academically integrated, a substantial number are poor achievers. While we have information about the effects of auditory access on academic achievement, we have little information on the effects of visual access. How does the lack of skilled sign language interpreters affect academic achievement? How effectively can elementary-age DHH students learn interpreted educational content?

Social integration

There is little evidence about the manner in which TODHH and general education teachers can promote social integration within the classroom. Because participation in extra-curricular activities is beneficial, we need to determine whether poor access to these activities limits DHH students’ out-of-classroom participation, and, in turn, how such limited participation affects social integration.