Standardized Assessments; Considerations for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

By Tim Peerenboom, SSPW School Psychology Consultant, Heidi Hollenberger, WESP-DHH Outreach Diagnostic/Educational Consultant and Jen Gettelman, WESP-DHH Outreach Deafblind Consultant

Federal regulations identify five requirements for administering assessments as part of a Comprehensive Special Education Evaluation (34 CFR 300.304(c)(1). When planning, administering, and interpreting standardized assessments to students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, IEP teams must consider many factors in order to comply with these federal requirements. Considerations include but are not limited to the child’s type of hearing loss, the hearing status of their parents, their access and use of assistive technologies, and their communication modalities.  Further detail regarding these and other considerations can be found in the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Position Statement, Serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students and Their Families: Implications for Education and Service Delivery.

Additionally, students who meet the IDEA category criteria of Deaf and Hard of Hearing and their caregivers may or may not culturally identify as Deaf.  IEP teams who fail to recognize and acknowledge this before or during the evaluation process are likely to miss important information that should be used to conduct the evaluation and develop the student’s IEP. So it is vital that IEP teams engage in Culturally Responsive Problem Solving and proactively address potential bias in the special education evaluation process.

A Comprehensive Special Education Evaluation must not only determine whether a student meets impairment category criteria, but also assist the IEP team in creating “the content of the child’s IEP, including information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general education curriculum and age appropriate activities” (34 CFR 300.304(b)(1). While this short article cannot possibly cover all of the knowledge and skills needed to conduct evaluations of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, the goal of this article is to provide some basic practical considerations and additional resources where IEP teams can find more in-depth information on the subject.

When a referral is made for an evaluation in which the student may be deaf or hard of hearing, the IEP team must include a teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The team should also be sure to identify educationally relevant questions about the student’s academic and functional skills to help determine whether standardized testing is necessary. Wisconsin criteria for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (PI 11.36(4)) does not require standardized assessments to determine the impact on educational performance. So the IEP team should consider, during the review of existing data, whether or not standardized assessments are necessary and appropriate in order to create a College and Career Ready IEP. It is also important for IEP teams to recognize that conducting standardized assessments in a way that is not reliable or valid, can have significant negative impacts on students. For example, a cognitive ability assessment administered in a non-standardized manner or without taking into consideration the ability of the student to access or engage in the assessment activities due to their hearing status could potentially result in a student being inaccurately labeled with an Intellectual Disability.

Of course, there will be times when standardized testing will yield important data and information for the IEP team. For example, standardized testing may be needed to assist the IEP team in determining a student’s disability related needs, and therefore their need for any specially designed instruction to be provided by an appropriately licensed teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. Additionally, valid and reliable standardized assessment data may assist a team in determining if a student’s learning difficulties are due to language deprivation or a specific learning disability.

Any comprehensive special education evaluation involves an IEP team making multiple high stakes decisions. Those decisions need to be made based on reliable, valid, and unbiased data and information. For more detailed and practical considerations and strategies for IEP teams when a student who may be deaf or hard of hearing is referred for an evaluation can be found on the Wisconsin Educational Services Program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WESP-DHH) Resources Page, or by contacting WESP-DHH Outreach Services