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Should Eligibility for Teacher Certification Be Dependent on a Sign Language Proficiency Evaluation?

Karen L. Dilka & Deborah Haydon, Eastern Kentucky University

As teacher trainers in the field of deafness, we are constantly striving to improve the skills and abilities of those individuals we prepare to work with deaf/hard of hearing children. One of the most controversial aspects of our profession and the focus of continual debate is the communicative sign language competence of tenured and preservice teachers. Generally, the concern related directly to teachers who lack proficiency in American Sign Language, however, this issue extends beyond ASL and includes the various other sign systems.

In the past, depending on the philosophy of the preparation program, the acquisition of sign language skills was embedded in the curriculum. Often, only one or two classes in sign were necessary to complete requirements toward graduation. Many of these courses were taught without a lab or other means of interaction with native language users. If field experience was incorporated into coursework and learning activities, then students received the added benefit of practicing sign skills at the same time they were practicing how to teach content.

State certification offices have traditionally established regulations that are contingent on the number and classification of credits taken at a university/college. Teachers were granted certification if they had written proof of a degree and presented the appropriate documentation. Performance in sign language was not considered to fulfill certification requirements.

Changes to the current teacher certification regulations in the Commonwealth have been proposed to overcome the problem of teachers who demonstrate minimal sign language skills. This proposal mandates a sign language proficiency test for all preservice and new teachers requesting certification. The question for this round table discussion was whether or not such an evaluation is timely and relevant, and what would be the most appropriate tool/instrument to use for assessment purposes that will provide valuable information to administrators hiring teachers. Is a state mandated sign language proficiency test for all preservice and new teachers requesting certification necessary? What instrument would be most appropriate for this assessment?