“BESE member: Changes needed at School for the Deaf” by Will Sentell was a patchwork of assertions made by BESE member Kathy Edmonston, as well as a rehash of a scurrilous news story from 10 years ago.
The gist of Edmonston’s assertions is that changes in how the Louisiana School for the Deaf is administered are necessary in order to improve the school’s poor performance rating. I applaud the article’s frank admission that LSD is a “struggling school by the state’s definition” because, in fact, it is the state’s definition that needs to change.
The School for the Deaf has long argued with the state Department of Education and BESE that the way the state evaluates a school’s performance based on the high-stakes test scores of students’ first attempt at taking the test is unfair to a special school population, and in particular, a deaf population. Certainly, Edmonston and her colleagues on the BESE board understand that deaf children begin their education at a distinct disadvantage compared to their hearing counterparts due to several years of language deprivation during their most formative years of language acquisition. Their entire school experience is one long process of “catch-up” in learning. Federal law recognizes this unique challenge in educating deaf students by allowing for “extended time” as an accommodation on their IEPs. And yet, the state insists that when it comes to assessing deaf students’ performance on mastery of subject matter, they should be at the same pace as hearing students. To be clear, I agree that deaf students obtaining a high school diploma should be at the same level as hearing students, but they should not be expected to meet that level at the same pace. If the state would follow federal law and allow extended time to meet that level, it would see the exceptional performance that both the students and the school teachers/administration are achieving every year at the Louisiana School for the Deaf.
As for Edmonston’s assertion that LSD “pales in comparison to comparable schools elsewhere, including Texas,” I would simply ask that she back that assertion up with an honest and open presentation of statistical facts. The article gave no such evidence in support of that assertion. While I am not privy to that kind of data myself, I can say from my 32 years of experience in deaf education that most if not all schools for the deaf in the United States lag significantly behind other public schools in their state, largely for reasons explained above.
Finally, regarding Sentell’s rehashing of a decade-old series of biased reporting of sexual activity among a few LSD students, I have only to say: “May the school without the scourge of teenage promiscuity cast the first stone.” Deaf teenagers are still just teenagers. This is not an excuse; it is just a fact.
retired teacher, Louisiana School for the Deaf