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On Reading Levels

On Reading Levels

Jon Henner posted a great article here and at Deaf Politics about deaf education and various relevant statistics.

There are profound implications for the deficiency in reading level in our deaf and hard of hearing peers.  Citizenship depends on reading level: the simplest newspaper, USA Today, is written at a fifth grade reading level, which is just barely within reach for the average deaf high school graduate.  Forget about more cosmopolitan (and important) sources like the New York Times, or the Washington Post, or even online newspapers like Salon.com.

Deaf Echo itself is classified as about 70% Intermediate and 30% Basic reading level from Google’s analysis.  What that means is essentially 70% of our content is probably beyond the ability for the average deaf high school graduate to fully grasp.  This was deeply disturbing for me to think about.

Let’s follow ten imaginary deaf kids and their parents through their lives.  You might know them.  Four girls and six boys.  Jack liked to jump rope, and John liked spaghetti and wore red shirts all the time.  Jane was the cutest of them all and wanted to be an astronaut, and Susan had her nose in books all the time.  Curtis had a cochlear implant.  All normal kids, except that they were deaf.

When they were twelve years old, they were tested.  It was found that their English vocabulary was 4 or 5 years behind their hearing classmates.  Even Curtis, with a cochlear implant, had less vocabulary than his hearing friends.  Jacob and Jane were both taught using SEE, which emphasizes English, yet they had less vocabulary than their hearing friends.

There was an outcry from these parents.  They found out that one of the kids’ teachers didn’t have any credentials or certificates for their position!  Upset, the parents did further research and found out that only a few of the teachers that taught their kids could communicate in sign language as fluently as the kids themselves!  ”How can they teach our kids if they can’t even sign,” they cried!  Except that there was no outcry.

Later, when this group of ten deaf kids graduated high school, two of them were still stuck with a second grade reading level.  Here’s an example of second grade reading material:

Meet George Beard and Harold Hutchins.  George is the kid on the left with the tie and the flat-top.  Harold is the one on the right with the T-shirt and the bad haircut.  Remember that now.

George and Harold were best friends.  They had a lot in common.

-The Adventures of Captain Underpants

And here’s an example of high school reading material:

Then Maurice pretended to be the pig and ran squealing into the center, and the hunters, circling still, pretended to beat him. As they danced, they sang.

“Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Bash her in.”

Ralph watched them, envious and resentful. Not till they flagged and the chant died away, did he speak.

Lord of the Flies

There’s a clear difference between the two.  If you’re reading this blog, you are likely not one of those two with a second grade reading level.  The story doesn’t end with those two though, the rest of their high school peers (most of them) will graduate with a fourth grade reading level.

Here’s an example of fourth grade reading material:

Until he was four years old, James Henry Trotter had had a happy life.  He lived peacefully with his mother and father in a beautiful house beside the sea.  There were always plenty of other children for him to play with, and there was the sandy beach for him to run about on, and the ocean to paddle in.  It was the perfect life for a small boy.

-James and the Giant Peach

Aside from the clear subject matter differences, there are also evident differences in vocabulary.  In the Lord of the Flies example, notable vocabulary words include “envious”, “resentful”,  and “flagged.”

Then there’s life after high school.  6 of those 10 kids will be throughly unprepared for high school.  Only one of them will be fully employed.  Another six will be unemployed.

So realistically, only one out of that group of ten kids will go on to have a good reading level and a full job.  If this isn’t an outrage to you, I don’t know what is.

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