Educational interpreting is arguably the predominant setting in which most ASL interpreters work. From kindergarten classrooms to college lecture halls, educational interpreters are the channel through which thousands of Deaf students receive their education in sign language.
For K-12 classrooms, the EIPA (Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment) is the test used to measure classroom interpreting skills. Interpreters who take this test are given a score of 0 (no skills demonstrated) to 5 (advanced native-like skills) in various skill areas. While this test is an extremely useful tool in measuring interpreters’ educational interpreting skills, a national standard score has not been established to delineate a “qualified” interpreter. Because of this, states are left to set up their own standards for the minimum EIPA score required to be considered a qualified educational interpreter.
Currently state requirements range from an EIPA score of 3.0 to 4.0, with five states requiring a 4.0 (California included), sixteen states requiring a 3.5, three states requiring a 3.0, and six states requiring RID Certification.
It’s helpful to know what these numbers represent. According to the EIPA website, a score of 3.0 or 3.5 is considered “intermediate” and represents an individual who “would be able to communicate very basic classroom content, but may incorrectly interpret complex information resulting in a message that is not always clear.” A score of 4.0 or 4.5 is considered “advanced intermediate” and represents an individual who “would be able to convey much of the classroom content but may have difficulty with complex topics or rapid turn taking.”
Nebraska made headlines this week as its state Board of Education considers raising the state EIPA score requirement from the current 3.5 to a 4.0. John Wyvill from the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing explains the need for raising the state standard:
“Simply put, educational interpreters with inadequate interpreting skills render the classroom incoherent. The bottom-line takeaway is that clearly many deaf and hard of hearing students are being left behind, and they’re being left behind because the interpreter is not offering full access.”
However, this proposal is receiving criticism as opponents argue a higher requirement will cause a shortage of qualified interpreters who can work in the school districts. Nebraska currently has 101 working Nebraska educational interpreters, but imposing stricter regulations would allow only 23 of those interpreters to continue working in the educational system.
Advocates for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are arguing that a lack of qualified interpreters should not prevent raising the quality of educational interpreting. State officials acknowledge there are several issues that need to be resolved before this new standard could be imposed without negatively impacting the educational system for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children by causing a severe interpreter shortage. The state will need to give its educational interpreters time and resources to improve their skills and re-test for a higher score.