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Unlocking the Curriculum Johnson et al. Unlocking the Curriculum: Principles for Achieving Access in Deaf Education 1 Robert E. Johnson Scott K. Liddell Carol J. Erting Gallaudet University The Failure of Deaf Education The education of deaf students in the United States is not as it should be. It has been documented time upon time that deaf children lag substantially behind their hearing age mates in virtually all measures of academic achievement. 2 Gentile (1972) found that deaf students' achievement on the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT) was markedly depressed in spelling, paragraph comprehension, vocabulary, mathematics concepts, mathematics computation, social studies, and science. Allen (1986) demonstrates that these patterns still persisted in 1983 and that, for each year of school, deaf children fall further behind their hearing peers in reading and mathematics achievement. The most recent comments on the situation have come from the Commission on Education of the Deaf, convened in 1987 to examine the current status of deaf education in the United States. Throughout its report (1988) the Commission reiterated its conclusion that the results of deaf education have failed to live up to our expectations and investments. We contend in this essay that these results represent a failure of the system that is responsible for educating deaf children. We will argue in support of changes in the system which recognize deaf children's need for early natural language competence and for communicative access to curricular material. Although these changes will not simply or quickly solve the problems of deaf education, they could move the system toward a higher rate of success. Understanding the difficulties facing deaf education begins with an examination of the children being educated. Less than ten percent of children who are prelingually deaf come from families in which there is an older deaf relative (Meadow, 1972; Rawlings, 1973; Trybus & Jensema, 1978; Karchmer, Trybus, & Paquin, 1978). Through such relatives, many of these children can gain access to the acquisition of a natural language (in the form of American Sign Language) and thereby to the information that is critical for those aspects of normal socio- emotional development that are founded in family interaction. For the other ninety-plus percent of deaf children, however, the situation is quite different. Typically, a deaf child is the first deaf person that the members of his family have ever encountered. For such parents, having a deaf child is generally unexpected and traumatic. Furthermore, their first advice usually comes from a pediatrician or an audiologist, many of whom do not understand the importance of early sign 1 Originally published as Gallaudet Research Institute Working Paper 89-3 (1989), Gallaudet Research Institute, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC. The authors retain the copyright of this article and it was supported by Gallaudet University's Graduate Studies and Research. 2 Throughout this essay, we use the word deaf in its most generic sense to include all children whose hearing impairment is sufficiently severe that they are not able to benefit fully from ordinary classroom placements. In general, this includes those children identified as "hearing impaired" in the demographic and statistical studies we cite. It is our view that our conclusions about accessible deaf education apply equally to all deaf children, regardless of the severity of their hearing loss. SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 91