Issues In Cognitive Assessments Of Hearing Impaired Students

The Challenges of Conducting Accurate Cognitive Assessment of the Hearing-Impaired

The subject of this page is an article about the challenge of conducting accurate cognitive assessments, such as IQ tests, of students with hearing disabilities. The citation for the article can be found below and can be obtained through the ERIC online database.

Prior to this research, previous studies cite two primary reasons why students with hearing deficits perform, on average, lower than their peers on cognitive assessments such as IQ tests. First, hearing loss is often associated with other neurological deficiencies that may affect the brain’s cognitive functioning. Secondly, the language and communication skills of the hearing impaired are often delayed due to their disability. As a result, these students’ language skills and reading level are lower than average, which may also affect cognitive skills.

The authors of this study, however, contend that the explanation for the apparently lower cognitive abilities of the hearing impaired is a result of inadequate assessments and not to deficiencies in the cognitive skills of the hearing impaired. As educators, I think we can intuitively recognize the argument that the author makes: it is extremely difficult to accurately assess the cognitive abilities of hearing impaired students because so much of the assessment depends on the language skills of the test taker. The authors state: “cognitive assessment measures that require a child to either comprehend directions or provide a verbal response may yield useful information regarding verbal skills development but may be of limited value for assessing the quality of the child’s thinking and reasoning abilities” (4).

The authors tested this idea – that hearing-impaired students’ cognitive abilities are underrepresented due to the nature of the assessment – through a study of 32 students with severe to profound hearing loss. The students were given two intelligence tests, one a regular intelligence test, the Wechsler Intelligence Survey for Children (Third Edition) and the other a nonverbal intelligence test, the Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test.

Surprisingly, the authors found that there was not a significant difference in the students’ performance on the two tests. In other words, the hearing impaired students did not perform significantly better on the nonverbal test than the “normal” intelligence test. The authors did, however, note that both types of test were administered by an individual highly skilled in American Sign Language. In situations in which this is not the case, we can imagine that students may not perform as they did in this study.

What does this teach us?

First, it is a general reminder of the importance of always creating assessments that measure—as much as possible—the specific skill you are trying to assess. As the authors point out, poor performance on an assessment may not necessarily indicate lower ability, but may be the result of a misunderstanding of the type or language of the assessment. Secondly, it reminds us to use a variety of measure to assess our students, especially in the case of students who are hearing impaired or who have other learning differences. To not do so may be selling our students’ abilities short and lowering our expectations of them.

Hughes, D., Sapp, G., and Kohler, M. (2006). “Issues in the Intellectual Assessment of Hearing Impaired Children.” ERIC Digest. Available online at:, pp 1-17.

This page was created by Terra White