The Reform Movement:
Changes For Deaf Ed Imminent

With excerpts from "A Blueprint for Closing the Gap - Developing a Statewide System of Service Improvements for Students Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing," a report of the Colorado Department of Education, Deaf Education Reform Taskforce.

Editors notes in Italics:

Children who are deaf and hard of hearing have unique communication needs that directly affect their personal development and their educational achievement capability.  Recognition of that fact motivated the first special schools in America for the deaf and hard of hearing during the mid-19th century.  However, after 150+ years of special attention to deaf education, statistics continue to point to the long-standing and well documented problem of deaf and hard of hearing educational underachievement.  Research data shows that change within the current educational system is necessary to improve outcomes for deaf and hard of hearing children.

Every child is entitled to a free and appropriate educational experience. But, in order to realize this goal for students who are deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH), the State of Colorado , and indeed all states , must recognize and accept its obligations and responsibilities as follows:

  • Grant D/HH students full access to their educational environments
  • Expect D/HH students to achieve the same high standards in place for all students and provide the appropriate support that will allow them to attain those standards
  • Place D/HH students in programs based on their communication needs
  • Provide opportunities for D/HH students to participate in all educational and social experiences, including activities with normal hearing students and adults
  • Provide opportunities for D/HH students to participate in education and social experiences with other D/HH peers and adults
  • Acknowledge that these rights fall within the realm of equal expectations for all students and accept the government's burden to guarantee that they are met

Contrary to these goals, facts identified by the National Deaf Education Project (Siegel, 2000) show that the target group falls below minimum standards:

  • Deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) children graduate with 3 rd grade reading aptitude
  • D/HH children gain only 1.5 years in literacy skill between the ages of 8 and 18;
  • D/HH children are overwhelmingly unprepared for college evidenced by a graduation rate of just 8%
  • The earning capacity of D/HH children is, on the average, 40-60% below that of their hearing counterparts. We must close the gap.

Colorado Example:

  • On average, 70% of D/HH students are performing in the unsatisfactory/partially proficient range on tests of the Colorado Student Assessment Program; alarmingly the number of students in the unsatisfactory range has increased over the past 3 years (Johnson, 2001)
  • On average, D/HH students perform 2-3 years below their hearing peers (Johnson, 2000)
  • The number of D/HH students who receive the majority of their education mainstreaming in the general school classroom is 26% higher than the national average (US Department of Education, 2002).

Other factors in Colorado which contribute to poor achievement of D/HH students include:

  • Lack of access to qualified educational interpreters despite legislation mandating minimum qualifications
  • Lack of current statewide program guidelines to promote standards of practice, staffing patterns, and caseload recommendations
  • Lack of district-level leadership from specialists in educating children who are D/HH
  • Lack of a statewide system to promote teacher inservice, current research, and standards of practice
  • Lack of effective teacher evaluation, which largely is the result of evaluators being unfamiliar with the education of students who are D/HH
  • Recruitment and retention problems, particularly in rural areas struggling with a declining economy, coverage of large geographical areas, a broad range of hearing disabilities, and a disability that receives inadequate attention because fewer students are affected. We must close the gap.

Before any other states start feeling smug and superior over the Colorado example, they should ask themselves how much they know about their own D/HH student population.  In reality, Colorado 's statistics are a reflection of how diligently this state has studied the problem, which puts them years ahead of most of the rest of the country.

The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind and the Colorado Department of Education have taken steps to study these issues in order to make recommendations for improvement. From 2000 through 2001, the Colorado Department of Education, Special Education Services Unit collected data from the following sources:

  • A statewide assessment of the performance of D/HH children in Colorado 's public schools including demographic and academic data on a 150-student sample enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12
  • An analysis of 1998 through 2001 Colorado Student Assessment Program scores for D/HH students
  • An analysis of more than 300 Colorado young children (birth - age 5) who are D/HH
  • An analysis of current demographic information regarding number and location of D/HH students, educational placements, and service
  • A report describing attributes of successful deaf students in statewide general education classrooms
  • The results of focus groups held in 3 regions of the state to determine education concerns for D/HH children
  • Existing federal and state legislation guiding policy for D/HH students
  • A review of other pertinent professional reports

The Colorado Department of Education established a Deaf Education Reform Task Force, which met regularly throughout the 2000-2001 school year. Membership of the Task Force represented special education, regular education, school administration, members of the D/HH community, parents, the Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, university training programs, organizations supporting deaf and hard of hearing constituents, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, and the Colorado Department of Education. Consultants from California and Arizona also assisted the Task Force. The Task Force addressed the following missions:

  • Analyze the changing demographics and needs of children who are D/HH in the state of Colorado
  • Improve educational outcomes for D/HH children
  • Recommend an effective communication-based service delivery system for D/HH children in Colorado .

As a result of the evidence researched, collected, analyzed, and discussed, the Task Force made the following recommendations:

  1. Colorado should implement a coordinated statewide regional education system as an educational option that will effectively and efficiently meet the needs of D/HH children.
  2. D/HH students should have access to quality academic and extracurricular programs that are communication-driven. Criteria for establishing these programs should be implemented.
  3. Communication-driven programs serving D/HH students should be subject to on-going assessment to assure full access, student achievement, and high standards.
  4. On-going training, mentoring, and a full spectrum of professional development activities should be implemented statewide to support and improve proficiency for specialty providers, general educators, administrators, and families.
  5. The Colorado Department of Education should collaborate with national and state agencies and higher education programs to recruit, train, and encourage retention of staff providing services to D/HH students.
  6. A system of community and parent education that leads to meaningful involvement that will result in full access and collaboration so that each child will have opportunities to maximize potential and achieve high standards should be implemented.
  7. Colorado should develop and implement a funding system that will provide sufficient resources for a quality education for D/HH children.

The Task Force has developed goals and a timeline for implementation of a statewide regional system of education and support. However, the program should begin with a pilot program in one region. The pilot should be maintained in accordance with the new statewide system and should be coordinated by a regionally-appointed advisory council working with the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Of utmost importance is that the pilot program reflects the unique characteristics and needs of its region while, at the same time, adhering to the high standards and basic tenants upon which the statewide system is founded.

Specific follow-up activities to implement this plan are identified below:

  • Determine funding structure
  • Report regularly to stakeholders (Colorado Department of Education, State Board of Education, Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, special education directors, local service providers, other pertinent state agencies and advocacy groups) through meetings facilitated by Task Force members
  • Report progress to the state legislature
  • Establish regional advisory councils
  • Determine regional administrative structures
  • Develop criteria for student eligibility for regional programs
  • Determine regional educational and support services
  • Develop accountability, compliance, and evaluation components
  • Determine regional center staffing
  • Hire regional coordinators and establish offices.

Current challenges and solutions to meet the needs of D/HH children are summarized below:

Current Challenges

Blueprint for Change

1. Outcomes and Accountability

  • Unsatisfactory outcomes: 75 percent of D/HH students demonstrate unsatisfactory/partially proficient performance on the Colorado Student Assessment Program.
  • Colorado Student Assessment Program assessments begin in the 3 rd grade which is too late to make substantive program changes that will result in positive outcomes for D/HH children.
  • Research shows poor compliance with D/HH statewide accountability assessment.
  • Low expectations of academic and social performance for D/HH students continue.


  • Communication-driven programs will have standards commensurate with hearing peers, provide on-going assessment, and maintain accountability for student achievement.
  • Assessment will include the Colorado Student Assessment Program and other evaluations that include bodies of evidence that consider communication and social and emotional functioning, in addition to academic performance.
  • Community and parent education programs and professional training and development will raise expectations for success and motivate adults to encourage children to maximize their potential.

3. Funding and Resources

  • Existing funding is locally-based and insufficient to meet the needs of D/HH students.
  • Unfair treatment of D/HH children exists from district to district because of inequitable services and resources.


  • The statewide regional education system will provide sufficient resources to fund quality education for D/HH children.
  • A coordinated statewide regional education system will promote practices and support funding that will result in improved performance of students.

4. Access to programs and services

  • D/HH students have limited access to quality academic and extracurricular programs.
  • Programs and services are driven by administrative constraints and a lack of resources rather than the communication needs of students.


  • In an upgraded program for D/HH students, activities are communication-driven, not available-resources driven.
  • A regionalized system will allow children access to any programs that best meet their needs, regardless of school district boundaries.

5. Parent and Community Partnerships

  • Educational systems are not always conducive to equal partnerships between parents and professionals.
  • Under the current system, few opportunities exist for input from the D/HH community.


  • The statewide regional education system will establish parent liaison positions to bridge home-school communication, and to participate in decision-making at the program development level.
  • The statewide regional education system will establish D/HH role model/mentors to work with children, parents, and professionals.

In conclusion, D/HH students are being short-changed by the current educational system, and are ill-prepared to contribute meaningfully to society.  Further, many of the same issues identified in a 1990 report, Statewide Plan for Delivery of Educational Services to Children who are Hearing Impaired/Deaf or Visually Impaired/Blind , remain today (CDE/CSDB, 1990).  The identified number of D/HH children has increased during the past several years due to earlier detection, more accurate reporting, and the increased availability of technology (e.g., computers, digital amplification, cochlear implants, assistive listening devices). More children are in general education classrooms and need appropriate management and support services. There is a prevailing challenge to prescribe, manage, and monitor the educational program for each child. Administrators, educators, other school personnel, parents, and the deaf and hard of hearing students themselves need training regarding the unique needs of children with hearing loss.

The Deaf Education Task Force recommends implementing a pilot program based on its research, findings, analysis and conclusions. This pilot program, which will parallel the proposed statewide program, offers the best opportunities for success for our D/HH children. We owe it to them to close the gap.

Ed. Note: In addition to Colorado , California and New Mexico have convened taskforces to create a vision for reform in their states.

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