SoundSpace Online

Education Outcomes, Literacy and deaf learners

The combination of universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS) that allows for much earlier identification of hearing loss, and access to vastly superior hearing technologies such as cochlear implants, has had a major impact on educational outcomes for deaf learners ([4]). For the first time in the history of the field, there has been an appreciable positive shift in literacy and other academic outcomes for deaf learners.

This stands in contrast to the educational outcomes reported for most deaf learners in the past. Historically performance was poor when compared to hearing peers, and this was the true for all aspects of the school curriculum including mathematics, reading, writing, history, geography and the sciences. Of these, the academic area that has traditionally received the most attention is literacy, with reported levels of attainment being significantly lower than those achieved by hearing learners (e.g., [3]; [5]; [6]; [8]; [9]; [10]). It has been reported that on average, 18 year-old deaf students leave high school with reading levels equivalent to children between 9 and 11 years of age, with more than 30% graduating as functionally illiterate and only about 3% reading at a level commensurate with their hearing age peers ([7]). Clearly there is a history indicating that deaf learners could be considered an at-risk population in terms of both literacy development and educational attainments.

Please click on these examples below to get a better idea of what it means to read at the level of a 9 year old and at the high school level. 

[27]  [28]

However the recent research literature indicates that greater numbers of deaf students – over 70% in many studies – are reading and writing at or above expectations for their age and grade (e.g.[202]). While it is not the case that all deaf pupils are now achieving at a level equal to that of their hearing peers, this represents a significant improvement. In spite of this, it is important to remember that this remains a very heterogeneous population with a greater variability in outcomes. Some of this variability in outcomes can be accounted for by factors such as:
  • age at onset of hearing loss (prior auditory experience)
  • age at implantation
  • language skills before implantation
  • mode of communication
  • nature of the technology
  • cognitive ability
  • gender
  • vocabulary
  • socio-economic status
  • presence of additional disabilities
These factors particularly refer to the impact on literacy development in learners with hearing loss

We are currently at a significant crossroads in the field as growing numbers of deaf children have access to a range of ever improving hearing technologies such as bilateral cochlear implants and bone conducting hearing implants (BCHIs) at increasingly younger ages. It remains to be seen how these advances will impact educational outcomes and literacy development for deaf learners. Please find here this National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) website page or this British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD) website page for the Consortium for Research in Deaf Education (CRIDE) 2015 data of the UK on educational provision of deaf children. For more information on Literacy development, please visit SoundSpace Online - Literacy development (in progress)