[Justin Small wears a black shirt with orange bow tie and stands in front of a grey background and signs an ASL version of the following statement]
Many community members have asked the Commission about LEAD-K.
What is LEAD-K? It is short for Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids. LEAD-K is a national coalition that advocates for states to pass laws that make sure that deaf, deafblind & hard of hearing kids are ready for kindergarten.
On November 29th, the Commission decided to ask community members. Do you think Minnesota needs LEAD-K?
We invited Gloria Nathanson (MADC), Mary Cashman-Bakken (MDE), Tom and Carole Virnig (parents and grandparents of Deaf children and grandchildren), and Susan Lane-Outlaw (MDS).
They all said that it’s great that other states are pursuing LEAD-K. Minnesota is ahead of the game however because we already have the same laws as LEAD-K. Now we should focus on structural improvements to our system.
In 2007, Minnesota passed laws that require:
• Each child’s progress be measured using evidence based assessments to track progress on meeting benchmarks including language acquisition.
• MDE must report the data to parents and summary information to the state.
• A law was passed that provides funding for Deaf Mentors to serve as role models and to provide ASL and Deaf culture information in the home. The 2007 funding was increased in 2015. We hope funding will be increased again this legislative session (2017).
So the kindergarten-readiness and language acquisition goals are already law. Gloria, Mary, Tom, Carole and Susan recommended two ways that we can improve the education system.
1) Improve data collection.
The most recent state report posted in the Minnesota Department of Health Website said that only one family uses ASL only. Members of the committee said they know many more families who use ASL only in the home. They asked, “How is the information collected?” Public school district early childhood deaf and hard of hearing staff report the data on each child to MDE. If the student and family information isn’t reported by staff, the state doesn’t have complete information. We need to make sure each child is included in the report.
2) Make sure appropriate assessment tools are being used to measure language acquisition.
Some members of the group wanted to make sure that the tools measure language acquisition, not just speech acquisition. They wanted more information about the tools and how they are used. For example, the Deaf Family Mentor Program do evaluation reports but they are currently not included in school districts.
What was their recommendation instead?
They recommended that the state develop comprehensive assessment centers in the north, middle and southern parts of the state to standardize assessments and get parents the information and support they need for their children to acquire language.
What’s next? These recommendations will be brought to the board. They will consider the recommendations and decide if they need more study or accept them.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the group and advocates for children. Again, Minnesota already has the key parts of LEAD-K. Leaders are recommending to the Commission board that we focus on structural improvements to our current system.
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