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Identifying current hearing screening procedures used in public schools will help to determine ways to improve screening practices. Additionally, the information on current practice patterns will be useful to university programs attempting to adequately prepare future audiologists and speech pathologists for their role in hearing screening programs in public schools.
The purpose of this study was to determine the hearing screening practices of public schools in rural Minnesota and Wisconsin. These results will help identify ways to improve hearing screening practices for the benefit of children in public schools. In addition, these results will help determine the extent to which speech language pathologists are currently involved in hearing screening programs in public schools.
Directors of 21 (9 in Minnesota and 12 in Wisconsin) special education service cooperatives were surveyed. Each special education cooperative consists of several individual school districts in rural areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The survey identified the personnel involved in educational hearing screening programs and the specific hearing screening procedures currently used by the school districts in the cooperatives. The survey was a modified version (used with permission ) of a study done in 1985 by Frye-Osier and Wahlton through the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and consisted of ten questions.
Twelve of the 21 surveys (57%) were returned and analyzed. Results indicated wide variability among cooperatives with respect to procedures and personnel used. Significant findings included:
1)Early childhood special needs classes, pre-kindergarten enrollment children, and children in grades K-3 receive annual hearing screenings in 75% of the service cooperatives that responded. Annual hearing screenings are not provided in other grade levels in most service cooperatives.
Nurses are the most frequently used personnel for coordination and administration of hearing screening programs. An audiologist does not regularly supervise most programs. Nor does the educational speech-language pathologist become involved in oversight of the hearing screening programs.
There is considerable variability among cooperatives and between the school districts in the cooperatives with respect to the type of pass/fail criteria used and in the type of equipment used for the hearing screening programs.
The results of this study have several significant implications. While nurses were identified as the professionals most heavily involved in coordinating and performing hearing screenings, one needs to question whether or not they are the most appropriate personnel for the task. Educational audiologists and speech-language pathologists have greater understanding of the impact of hearing loss on academic and social development, and are more likely to place a higher priority on ensuring that established protocol for hearing screenings are followed. The lack of adherence to established
protocol and lack of oversight by an educational audiologist or speech-language pathologist increase the likelihood that children with potential hearing loss will not be identified in timely way, and
will not receive the appropriate professional services they need for academic success. University programs can assist future audiologists and speech-language pathologists in developing the skills they will need to work more effectively with special education directors to establish hearing screening programs that are consistent with established protocol.