The issue


In co-enrollment programs, groups of students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH) and hearing are taught together (co-enrolled) in the same classroom by a team of teachers. The teachers have complementary skills; one has expertise in the general education curriculum, while the other has expertise in educating DHH students. Co-enrollment classrooms are bilingual, using both sign and spoken language for instruction and interaction.

What we know

Teachers who work in co-enrolled classrooms mention the following benefits to DHH and hearing students:

  • DHH students are taught the regular curriculum and therefore have access to the same content as their hearing peers.
  • DHH students have a peer group of other same-age DHH students.
  • Hearing and DHH students are able to communicate, interact, and learn from each other.

Academic benefits of co-enrollment. Researchers have studied co-enrolled classrooms in several countries to determine whether the regular curriculum is accessible to the DHH students and whether co-enrollment results in positive academic outcomes for DHH students. In order to access the curriculum co-enrolled DHH students must participate in classroom communication and be academically engaged. DHH students (without secondary disabilities) and hearing students rate themselves similarly and positively on communication with teachers and peers in the classroom and are equally likely to pay attention during instruction. Academic outcomes have been measured by examining standardized achievement scores of co-enrolled DHH students. Results indicate that although achievement of DHH students in co-enrolled classrooms is lower than that of their hearing classmates, it is higher than that of a national sample of DHH students.
Social benefits of co-enrollment. The longer DHH and hearing children are in co-enrolled classrooms, the more likely they are to obtain social benefits. During the first year of co-enrollment, DHH and hearing students gradually and steadily are seen to increase their positive interactions with one another. Several studies have indicated that DHH and hearing children attending co-enrolled classrooms accept one another, develop mutual friendships, and have positive attitudes towards one another. Co-enrolled DHH students’ social skills are similar to those of their hearing classmates.

What we don’t know

Although programs exist in several countries, the key features of co-enrollment are not well defined. We do not know the ideal ratio of DHH to hearing students. If the ratio is too low, the needs of the DHH students may be overlooked; if the ratio is too high teachers may lower their expectations, which can negatively influence curriculum delivery.

Should most co-enrolled classroom be team-taught? Ideally, co-enrolled classrooms are taught by a two-teacher team, but some are taught by one teacher certified in both general education and education of DHH students. On other teams, the second teacher may be an aide who is deaf or hard of hearing. Sometimes, the teacher of the deaf is present for only part of the school day. We do not know how these different teaming arrangements influence outcomes.

While the social benefits seem robust, DHH students in co-enrolled classrooms continue to achieve academically below than their hearing peers. Is this because they are more passively engaged, or because they continue to have difficulty accessing academic information? Although it is assumed that DHH students in co-enrolled classrooms have better access to the general education curriculum than students in segregated, self-contained classrooms, we have no documentation of the differences in curriculum coverage.

Finally, co-enrollment programs exist mostly at the elementary grades. We have yet to determine if academic and social benefits of early co-enrollment maintain into the higher grades.


Co-enrollment is a promising practice, providing DHH students access to an academic curriculum and to same-age hearing and DHH peers. Hearing students benefit from being exposed to a bilingual program and learning side-by-side with a diverse group of peers. Access to a team of teachers with complementary expertise benefits both groups.

Most published research on co-enrolled classrooms has emphasized the benefits of bilingualism, that is, the use of both sign and spoken language. When both languages are accepted as the classroom norm, hearing loss is no longer the most salient characteristic defining a group of students. The DHH students’ communication becomes an “ordinary” rather than an “exceptional” aspect of the classroom.

Simply placing DHH and hearing students together physically in the same classroom will not result in the benefits ascribed to co-enrollment. Administrators, teachers, and parents must ensure that DHH students are integral members of the school and classroom community. Despite differing expertise, the team of teachers should have ownership of all students, DHH and hearing, and jointly plan and deliver instruction.

Posted on January 12, 2015 by
Shirin Antia
University of Arizona
Santia {at}