State exams are stressful enough for any family, but especially when the exam candidate is deaf. Parents worry that their teen will not understand an exam question due to underdeveloped language comprehension, or simply be unable to complete an exam in time.
IDK recently learned of a student who is taking the Junior Certificate exams at present. Her mother was concerned about her ability to comprehend exam questions, as she does not recognise or understand certain words.
In a mock exam in English earlier this year, this student was asked, “after reading this extract, would you be encouraged to read the book?” The student did not attempt to answer this question, simply because she did not know what “extract” or “encouraged” meant.
Her mother cut a paragraph from a book she was reading and told her daughter this was an extract, or part, or piece of the book. She pointed to the book extract on the exam page and asked her daughter, “after reading this, would you like to read the book if you hadn’t read it before?”
The student said she would like to read the book (in the mock exam question) to find out what happened to the character and how the story ended. She would have got ten marks for the answer. So this shows she had the ability to answer the question, but not the language comprehension.
After this experience, the student’s mother wrote to the (then) Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, who referred her request for a reasonable accommodation to the special education section. After some deliberation, the outcome was that the student would be granted the accommodation.
Fundamentally, many deaf students taking exams lack confidence in their ability to understand the questions, or to follow the instructions in a task set in an exam. Secondly, they may feel unconfident about writing their responses accurately in English, especially if the text studied before the exam was not fully understood, or if they were relying on notes taken by a third-party. Together, the two above elements can create a feeling of inadequacy in the exam, which in turn confuses the student’s thinking.*
Parents with concerns about their teenagers’ ability to comprehend exam questions can in other words, request exam supports – but notice must be given well before the exams actually begin.
* as defined in a 2007 submission to the state examinations commission by DAWN (Disability Advisors Working Network)