There are many possible interventions that can occur when a child performs poorly in school, but one that can be easily overlooked is a hearing check.
Yet a growing body of research indicates hearing loss--even a minimal amount--can have a dramatic effect on everything from attention and behaviour to academic performance.
At the same time, data indicates, and experts in the field believe, that the introduction of sound reinforcement and sound amplification systems can help with this problem.
Normal hearing for children is 15 decibel hearing level(dB HL)or better at all frequencies with normal middle ear function. Anything less can place a child at risk in the academic setting.
There are approximately 46 million K-12 students in the United States; more than 9 million--about 20 percent of them--have some type and degree of hearing loss.
Based on the number of audiologists employed by school districts to manage students with hearing loss, less than 1 percent of these children with hearing problems are receiving professional help through their schools.
Of course, it's possible that not nearly all those students need professional help with their hearing loss. In fact, many times the loss is not even noticeable by most observers, and the same loss likely would not affect the behavior of adults.
However, for a child trying to integrate new information, even "minimal" hearing loss can have a huge impact on learning.
"The issue that needs to be addressed is hearing clearly for effective teaching and learning," says David H. Parish, president and CEO of Woodbury, MN-based Calypso Systems, a manufacturer of integrated classroom products, including classroom acoustic systems. He stresses that children who have trouble hearing what is going on in the classroom may perform below standards both academically and behaviourally.
"Studies show that children who fail basic hearing tests have to repeat a grade at 10 times the rate of those who pass them," says Parish. "That statistic clearly demonstrates that the ability to hear--especially at younger ages when language skills are not as advanced or for those learning English as a second language--is critical for good academic outcomes."
Loud and Clear
The Acoustical Society of America, in conjunction with the American National Standards Institute, has published standards that define, for classrooms, the acoustical standards necessary for effective teaching and learning environments.
The key standard is signal-to-noise ratio. The "signal" is the teacher's voice or the audio of media employed in instruction. "Noise" is everything else that makes it more difficult to hear the signal: students' chatter, the fish tank, street noise, HVAC systems, and so on.
"The signal needs to be sufficiently greater than noise to be heard and understood, and very often that is not the case," says Parish.
Another eye-opening statistic in this context: Roughly 72 percent of all children referred to special education courses also fail a basic hearing test. "Why does this happen?" asks Parish. "Which is the cause and which is the effect here?"
According to Parish, these children are more easily distracted, which makes it more likely that they will be disruptive in the classroom. As a result, they often move into special education programs.
This raises the question: Could schools reduce the number of referrals into special education through the introduction of sound reinforcement and sound amplification systems? Studies suggest the answer may be "yes."
According to research compiled by Pamela Millett, assistant professor and educational audiologist at York University in Toronto, a number of studies show decreases in special education referral rates following installation of sound field acoustic systems across school districts.
For example, in the Oconto Falls School District (WI), special education referral rates fell from an average of 7.72 percent between 1989 and 1998 to 4.6 percent between 1998 and 2000, when sound field amplification systems were installed in all classrooms in the district from kindergarten to grade 5. This is a reduction of more than 40 percent.