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High Standards for Educational Interpreters Backfiring?

By November 29, 2007

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The comment left by "Mike" last night on the recent blog post, "Proof of Damage by Inadequate Interpreters" was thought-provoking and I have reprinted his comment here:

Based on RID info as well as the interpreting school I attended, I see required standards for interpreters increasing every year. For example, New Jersey requires a special certification to interpret in a school. This school certification is in addition to a normal interpreting certification. The danger with this system is that the shortage of qualified interpreters might increase. I know several people that were discouraged from completing their interpreting programs because of high standards, thus disallowing them to gain experience which in the long term would've made them more qualified. These individuals more or less gave up signing and work in other fields now. The interpreting and signing profession needs to advertise better for itself to attract more people into the field so that quantity quotas will still be met despite high standards and rigorous training requirements. I was completely unaware of deaf interpreting until college. Targeting students in grammar school and high school should solve this quality vs. quantity issue.

If what "Mike" says is true, then it becomes a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. If you don't increase the standards for educational interpreters, you risk the deaf and hard of hearing children being subjected to inadequate interpreters. If you do increase the standards, then fewer people might become interpreters. This creates a situation where a deaf or hard of hearing child can have a good quality educational interpreter -- IF an interpreter can be found.

Do any About.com readers have any ideas on how to cope with this dilemma? Ironically, about the same time that my blog post was posted, the Der Sankt Speaks blog had a post, "Are VRS Stealing Our Interpreters?" which posed the question of whether interpreters should be required to do certain types of interpreting in order to maintain their certification. He has a point. Is this the direction in which we are heading in order to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing children have an adequate supply of qualified interpreters for their education?

November 29, 2007 at 7:02 pm
(1) Carl Schroededr says:

What is even worse is that no one is proficient enough in American Sign Language to supervise and evaluate educational interpreters in schools.

December 5, 2007 at 8:00 am
(2) Teacher says:

It’s the same boat with shortages of deaf teachers. Many Deaf people are having hard times getting teaching certicates because of the sophisicated high standard state reading exams. It would be nice for everyone to work together and help each other. I pray for the future of the Hard of Hearing and Deaf students.

December 5, 2007 at 8:13 am
(3) Sandy says:

I was an uncertified educational interpreter for 10 years. I was forced to leave that profession when the cert. requirments went into effect. I had to decide to either go through the interpreter program, or go back to school. I have since gotten my masters degree in special education and am working full time, steady, and have benefits. So, maybe for me it was a blessing in disguise. I loved what I was doing at the time, but there was no security in it. Good luck to those who will go for it.

December 5, 2007 at 3:17 pm
(4) Regina says:

There is a solution. Better pay, benefits and professional status. When so many interpreters are treated like, paid and classified as teachers aides, what do they expect? If professionals are what are needed, try paying for what you get.

December 6, 2007 at 12:08 am
(5) Darlene Jefferson says:

I agree with all comments.I work at a elementary school as a edu.interpreter,teachers aide,tutor etc.My principal has no knowledge of what my jobs consistence,nor the teachers of the deaf.What I can’t understand is why the teachers are excluded from the EIPA exam,I work with three certified teachers of the deaf and their teaching and signing skills are very limited and they’ve been teaching for over 20 years.Therefore,their students are limited academically with inadequate signing skills.This is discouraging to an interpreter.

December 6, 2007 at 9:42 pm
(6) Holly in WV says:

I have been working as an interpreter for 3 years. My state is now requiring the EIPA and Certification for me to continue working. I have never been to school or completed anything formal. Everything I know is because of the Grace of God and Deaf people teaching me their language and culture. The thought of all this testing is very intimidating. I only want to make sure that mainstreamed Deaf children get the best education available. There is no teacher of the Deaf where I work. Only my student and I. There are not enough interpreters to sub when some of the full time interpreters are off work. This is going to be a real challenge for many interpreters and will sort out those who are not qualified. I just hoe it doesn’t leave the children without the necessary tools they need for life.

December 7, 2007 at 7:43 pm
(7) Kim says:

I am a credentialed teacher of the Deaf, I have a MA in Special Ed. with an emphasis on Deaf Ed., and this is my third year of teaching. My DHH teaching program requires teachers of the Deaf to pass the ASLPI (American Sign Language proficiency interview) to ensure ASL fluency and we are also required to get involved in the Deaf Community. I work closely with my aide as well as educational interpreters and I am aware of the many hats that they wear, and believe me, I wear many hats as well. But we do this because we love the field, our students and their families. I agree that high standards are needed for educational interpreters but the new law are imbalanced and unrealistic. In CA, the law requires educational interpreters to be certified with a 3.0 now and they must achieve a 4.0 by 2009. Not only has this hurt DHH students in the classroom by eliminating the small pool of interpreters that we had. The DHH classroom setting does not provide support for educational interpreters to advance in their skills as quickly as other settings (i.e., a junior college setting). With the exception of high school interpreting, I disagree that educational interpreters should just interpret. For those who work in elementary schools, many are not doing intense, high level interpreting for hours on straight. The majority of elementary age DHH students do not have the receptive language skills to fully comprehend interpreters; many are just learning to attend and they are in the mainstream classroom for a variety of reasons. It is important for educational interpreters to be able to lower their register, sign larger and more expressively and be willing to work with the child (children) in a small group to help ensure understanding because they do not have true access to the classroom unless you bridge their knowledge with additional support. With the new laws requiring certification, the high level of skill required and the time allotted to achieve that goal is frankly ridiculous. This definitely discourages people from working in the edcuational setting, especially with the current salary rate offered to educational terps. The state needs to recognize the intense training that interpreters go through by compensating them appropriately, and mentorship programs need be implemented in order to support interpreters’ professional growth. Districts need to be more supportive as well as clear in educational terps’ job duties. As a teacher, I appreciate and depend on educational interpreters to help my students grow and flourish.

December 8, 2007 at 1:37 am
(8) Mark says:

I’m Deaf and a Cochlear Implant user. Firstly I believe the law of supply and demand has always been something we will not achieve for quite a while. There is also the politic of school district that has be put in the equation. Around here I see school district talking about how to educate the Deaf student and how to fund the support service they need. Sometimes several school district will say it be hosted by a single district. I’ve heard in one case they decided to “Move” the Deaf program because the school needs more room for the growing population. What this meant for some Certified Deaf Educators and Interpreter was the need to look for a different assignment or drive further from home.
So higher standard + volatility of position + school district politics + better pay elsewhere (VRS/freelance) = lower supply/demands for educating our Deaf students.
For those who stick in the field I like to say “Thank You”.

January 29, 2008 at 8:22 pm
(9) Denise says:

I agree with Regina and Darlene. The bar in educational interpreting needs to be raised and there is much awareness now regarding the urgency of this matter for deaf students.

Traditionally, educational interpreting has not been held in high esteem by the interpreting profession in general. And, unfortunately, for a long time, there was good reason for this. Many educational interpreters were not trained, did not hold college degrees, and did not hold credentials in their field.

In addition, public school systems have viewed interpreters as aides. The pay is typically low compared to other specializations in interpreting and the hassles of working with people who do not give interpreters respect as professionals have made other avenues of interpreting more attractive for experienced, qualified interpreters.

I appreciate Kim’s credentials and the fact that in her geographical area teachers of the deaf are required to uphold some degree of ASL fluency, however, this is not the norm. In 25 years of working in public schools I have yet to see a teacher of the deaf who signs ASL or even a decent Contact Language would be nice. The signing skills of the teachers of the deaf I have encountered are rather pathetic and their knowledge of visual techniques for working with visual learners is virtually non-existent.

I am fortunate to work with a highly skilled teacher of the deaf who is Deaf and fluent in ASL, so I have seen what a difference the right skills and knowledge can make in the lives of deaf students.

I understand the dilemma of a dearth of qualified interpreters by raising the standards…but quite honestly, the dearth of truly qualified ed interpreters was always there regardless of the standards. Would there ever be a “good time” to require these standards?

The deaf students deserve these higher standards and ESPECIALLY at the elementary level when language acquisition is taking place and is so vital for development. The BEST interpreters should be at the elementary level. I disagree that this is not an intense level at which to work. Interpreters have to have many tools to impart the language and information at this level because so many deaf children come to school with language deficits and deficits in world knowledge or background knowledge. Elementary school interpreters need to be educated in the areas of language acquisition, cognitive development, visual learning techniques, visual “motherese”, need to able to incorporate the techniques deaf teachers and adults use to communicate with young deaf children, etc.

I agree with Kim that elementary level interpreting often requires a different role for interpreters. Brenda Schick and Brenda Seal have referred to this as a “shadow teacher” role. The importance of direct communication is so important at this age level and many young deaf children are not yet fluent in language and have no idea about how to use an interpreter. A shadow teacher role can compensate for this. Take a look at the website called Classroom Interpreting (Brenda Schick’s site). Also, I recommend the book Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed and Best Practices in Educational Interpreting. These books address the roles of educational interpreters at the different age levels with whom we work.

Educational interpreters should not only be certified, but should also be college educated given the academic environment and topics we deal with, even at the elementary level.

That said, the federal government and state governments now need to back up these higher standards for educational interpreters with funding for interpreter training and more funding to raise salaries for educational interpreters in order to attract and retain the best professionals to work with deaf students.

June 17, 2008 at 2:18 pm
(10) Anonymous says:

Hello, I am very disappointed in the law change for interpreters. For one thing It is was not given enough time for interpreters. I have been to an interpreting program,the teachers and the program was ill prepaired. Our teachers got the assignments when they got their and did not know how to teach the lessons. It is a intense program where you sit in front of a computer worrying about getting the assignment done, and felt that you did not learn anything but getting the work done. It is sad for the people who live in rual areas who dont have the oppertunity like big cities do of getting ASL classes or interrpeting programs. The deaf and hard of hearing children will be left behind anyway when the interpreter can not pass the EIPA test. It is sad that the interpreter is going through so much to get certified, when teacher of the deaf do not have any sign language skills at all. I have sat and watch a deaf child with a hard of hearing student for a year and the teacher did not sign at all especially words for science, history, and geography. We interpreters prepare and study just like any teacher does for there class, at least give us the time to pass this EIPA test, with a qualified mentor instead of makeing us step down and leave kids unattended in school that violates ADA laws.

April 2, 2009 at 9:00 am
(11) Antonia says:

I would like to say that the certified and/or highly qualified interpreters are leaving the school system for better paying jobs, better cocial capital, and more support in their profession! Interpreters that are certified are still considered as aides and do not recieve adequate compensation while at the same time, uncertified teachers are being paid double. Interpreters have been supressed for years and now they are not taking it any longer. If an interpreter is a memeber of RID, NAD, EIPA, or the local school union, these organizations do not step in to suppor tthe needs of the educational interpreter. Since there is no support, understanding, training, or compensary pay, why find a better job?
Interpreters have families to feed! They can not stay in the school system and be required to do everything including interpreter and continue to take the inconsiderate comments from the uneducated about how and how not to interpret. If the schools want to keep certified highly qualified professional interpreters in the school system, then the school systems need to establish an accredited interpreter job description based on interpreter professional criteria (not from people that are uneducated in the feild of interpreting) and title interpreters professionals with a raise in pay. Or the school systems can continue to allow uncertified teachers to interpret in the classroom for larger pay salaries while the “interpeter” is left interpreting for aide salary. How many school systems out there actually have these items in place?
A lead interpreter.
Certified training for interpreters in their specialized field.
compensary pay for higher levels of certification achieved.
Include interpeters in the IEP process and meetings.
Require interpreters to interpret effectively and receptively or perform adie duties when assigned. How many interpreters actually perform their job on a daily basis?
How many interpreters are actually hired as interpreters or are they hired as braille specialists, aides, or other type of service provider?
How many certified interpreters would see uncertified teachers interpreter unconceptually while the teacher was getting a higher salary then that interpreter?
Why the hell not leave the school system for a place that is going to recognice interpreters as professional individuals!
Yes states should raise the bar on all professionals, but if you notice others, recieve adequate pay. We should all work to better ourselves not matter what type of job we have, we never reach a point where we cannot learn something new, there is always rooom for impprovement. First, a new foundation must be laid in order to support the house!

February 17, 2010 at 10:14 pm
(12) Nancy says:

Having passed EIPA (in 2003) and RID certification (in 2006) I am frustrated that Uncertified Interpreters, some with Waivers and others who simply have No Certification are still working in K-12 settings. True, the tests are not easy but neither is the job. And in fact, the tests are not impossible to pass if one has been attending workshops, engaging in mentorships and taking responsibility for the “work” they do. Who is monitoring these credentials? To whom should I report school districts/Charter school administrators who continue to hire people who move their hands fast enough to fool those who DO NOT KNOW WHAT AN INTERPRETER IS DOING? In spite of certification requirements deaf children are still missing information necessary to their education while LAZY interpreters hide behind their waivers.

February 22, 2010 at 12:16 pm
(13) PAul Wynn says:

I concur with Nancy. I Passed my EIPA performance assesment in 2003 with a Roman IV. I have worked since then as an Ed K-12 Interpreter at a pay acale of an aide or tutor. My BS degree in Special Education and Rehabilitation. I minored in Deaf Studies and a rigorous ASL Interpreter Training course of studie including mentorship practicum classes. I recently rejected a job in california because the Pay was below what I had been earning in another school district. I was expected to accept tha job at their lowest entry level on their pay scale. In spite of the years of service behind me and that I held the state required EIPA level IV K-12 and RID certification, They elected to rescind their job offer to me after having passed the interview. I had been in the classrooms there with a Deaf student who I had worked with previously. During my time there I saw the same situation where interpreters who had been there for years have sign in English order to students who still have not achieved third grade English mastery and who sign using Basic Interpersonal Cognitive skills which is not sufficient for the transfer of educational curiculums. The rights of the students to have a first language taught to them are generally overlooked or ignored. I believe their curiculum should be modified to focus first on ASL fluency. Then they would be able to learn English as quickly and effectivley as any other ESL student. This pedegogy would in most cases require a change in IEP from Graduactuion as The goal to Certificate of completion instead. Sadly if a student is “helped” through the requirements they are excited to graduate with their Mainstream peers. However if they graduate at age eighteen they find themselves on the street without coping skills to find decent employment let alone post secondary education. The law provides services through their twenty-first year “IF” they haven’t graduated. I feel that with proper counseling Deaf students and their parents/guardians could discover the benefits in postponing required curiculum for graduation, for the time needed to become fluent in ASL, secondly English and finaly State required courses leading to graduation with a diploma. I have been around long enough to see the years of warning pass. These new requirements are for the benefit of the Deaf for whom the funding is granted in the first place. When I invited the terps there to carpool to a local RID Workshop on Discourse Mapping they seemed offended that I would suggest their skilles and tenure were not enough.

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