Educational Settings for Students who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing

The issue


Due to the U.S. Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the majority of students who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) are spending all or some portion of their day in a general education (GE) classroom.  In the GE setting, a DHH student may have varying access to instruction delivered by a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing (TODHH) or any of several accommodations.  Teachers and parents should be well informed about which placement options provide the best support their chilld’s educational needs.

What we know

DHH students participate in a continuum of educational settings.  These settings range from all-day placement in a GE classroom in the local school district to a day or residential placement in a school for the deaf.  During an Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting, the student (if appropriate) and the student’s team are required to discuss the educational settings available that would provide the least restrictive environment.  Diagnostic data from a variety of linguistic, cognitive, and behavioral measures should be used to establish the extent to which a student would benefit from more or less individualized support, which significantly factors into determining the initial placement.  The team must determine whether each setting alternative can or cannot meet the student’s needs.  The educational settings include
  • full-time in the GE setting:
    • without accommodations
    • with accommodations (e.g., sign language interpreter, notetaker)
    • with accommodations and consultation from a TODHH
    • with accommodations and direct instruction within the general education classroom from a TODHH
  • part-time in the GE setting with accommodations and part-time in the deaf education classroom with direct instruction from a TODHH
  • full-time in the deaf education classroom within a public school with direct instruction in all subject areas from a TODHH
  • full-time in the deaf education classroom within a day school for the deaf with direct instruction in all subject areas from TODHHs
  • full-time in the deaf education classroom within a residential school for the deaf with direct instruction in all subject areas from TODHHs.

Some regions of the United States have magnet programs where DHH students from several surrounding school districts are bussed to one school to create a critical mass of DHH students who are educated together.  In other areas of the United States, co-enrollment programs exist where a general education teacher and TODHH teacher work together to serve the hearing and DHH students.  Parents, members of a student’s IEP team, and the student have the right to ask for each available education setting option in their area to determine which setting can best meet the student’s educational needs.

What we don’t know

We do not fully understand the effectiveness of different placement models in meeting individual students’ needs.  DHH students who attended general education schools typically have higher achievement test scores across subjects compared to DHH students who attended special schools.  Understanding what services and/or accommodations were provided in each GE setting may reveal what best supports different DHH students’ achievement.  Further, we do not know what curricula are implemented in each educational setting.   In some cases, the TODHH may be using the general education curriculum, while others use a curriculum developed specifically for DHH students. The knowledge base on appropriate teaching strategies and effective curricula is for DHH students is woefully insufficient.  Research investigating the overall effectiveness of these placement models has not been aggressively pursued.


Because we do not know the general characteristics of DHH students that thrive in each of the potential educational settings, it is difficult for a student’s educational team to make evidence-based decisions.  General academic achievement data are collected; however, factors other than academic achievement also need to be considered (e.g., developing identity, growing a first language, increasing opportunities for social interaction, access to extracurricular activities).  Parents and teachers must ensure that all data are collected in each new educational setting.  If the student does not thrive, then placement should be reconsidered.

Also, location plays a big role in educational setting placement.  Some areas have access to day schools, magnet programs, or co-enrollment programs while other areas do not. Parents and teachers should research the educational settings available locally and request that each option is discussed at every IEP team meeting. The team’s educational placement decision cannot be based on staff availability, funding or convenience. The decision should be based on how well the identified setting meets the student’s IEP goals and provides services for the student to be successful.

Posted on Jan 5, 2017 by
Jessica W. Trussell
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology
jwtnmp {at}

Thomastine A. Sarchet
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology
tasbka {at}


Further reading