Researchers have long known that childhood hearing loss can have detrimental effects on a child’s long-term academic success. Hearing abilities are critical to speech and language acquisition, so it makes sense that hearing loss can negatively impact a child’s ability to communicate effectively and learn in a traditional classroom setting.
There are plenty of resources out there to help children with hearing loss succeed in the classroom. But a child can only get this support if they are diagnosed with hearing loss early in life.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) both recommend screening multiple grades of school children each year to help identify any students that might have hearing loss. However, many school districts choose to only test one group of students (usually those in kindergarten) for hearing loss.
Since progressive, fluctuating and acquired hearing loss can happen at any age, many researchers believe that testing only one class grade each year increases the risk of missing students with non-standard presentations of hearing loss. Although many schools are quick to pick up on a child’s hearing loss, different screening procedures result in different learning outcomes for students with hearing difficulty.
New Research On School Hearing Screenings
It’s up to each school district to decide how often they’d like to test students for hearing, with some testing just once in kindergarten and others testing in both kindergarten and the third grade. New research seeks to learn more about the impact that different testing procedures can have on the long-term educational outcomes of students with hearing loss.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, tested over 1000 students for hearing loss at a charter school. The students in kindergarten through ninth grade were tested in the fall of 2016 and the testing was repeated on students in kindergarten through eighth grade in the fall of 2018.
In 2016, three percent of the students failed the hearing screening test, while in 2018, four percent of the students failed, indicating a reliable and replicable study result. What’s most interesting about this study, however, is how the results of this screening compare to the guidelines used by many schools for their own testing procedures.
For example, in North Carolina, where schools are required to test students only once (usually in kindergarten), as many as 92% of students with hearing loss that failed the researchers’ tests would have been missed had they only been screened one time. When compared with ASHA guidelines for testing, some 50% of students with potential hearing loss would have been missed, while AAA’s guidelines fared slightly better with a 39-50% miss rate.
These statistics should be alarming, especially when one considers the impact that childhood hearing loss can have on an individual’s academic outcomes. However, while the study indicates a problem with current screening standards, the researchers caution against jumping to conclusions. Instead, they say that more research is needed to better develop screening standards for use in schools around the United States.
Additionally, even though screening procedures are important, they are not definitive and don’t count as treatment. Instead, students with suspected hearing loss need to be referred to a hearing healthcare specialist for more diagnostic testing and long-term care.
Even though the researchers offered free additional testing to all of the students that failed their screening, very few parents followed up with this option. Thus, research is needed to better understand barriers to hearing testing and hearing healthcare to our most vulnerable students.