Learning American Sign Language (ASL) for foreign language credit in New York State

This page serves as a guiding document for parents looking to substitute traditional foreign language (language other than English - LOTE) courses for American sign language.  

Our background
Our 11-year-old daughter is dyslexic.  We found out when she was in 1st grade and began working with her public school to help her learn to read.  At first, it was extremely difficult and we made little progress.  We did some intensive work at a reading clinic sponsored by The Ohio State University and skype tutoring sessions throughout 2nd grade.  We moved to the Buffalo area in 2014.  We were able to get a Wilson based private tutor starting in third grade and spent two years doing private lessons 1-2 times a week.  The combination of this tutoring and the resources at her new (public) school allowed her to catch up in many areas of english and language arts (ELA) although her reading fluency is currently still slow (bottom decile on cognitive battery tests).  Her main issue seems to be in decoding multisyllabic words - thus for her, the battery of "sight words" is extremely limited relative to her peers.  She is an extremely hard worker and spends 1-2 hours daily on homework (with breaks on the weekends) but the amount of time spent is increasingly becoming an issue. 

Language other than English (LOTE) - Our experience
As a fifth grader, our daughter has begun a Spanish course this year (2016-2017).  Her school district offers a 0.5 unit (more description of this below) course in Spanish starting in 5th grade.  To say it has been a struggle would be an understatement.  The teacher is amazing and most of the work is done audibly with a focus on speaking and listening.  Typically foreign language courses test students on four areas (speaking, listening, reading, writing) and if you look at the state of New York proficiency exams from 4-5 years ago they have a component of each of these things.  Our daughter did exceptionally well (grade-wise) but studying at home was a nightmare.  All of our decoding issues reared their heads when we would have to make flash cards or memorize sentences talking about the weather or birthdays.  As a result of this, we decided to seek an exemption from the LOTE requirement (more below).  Our intention was to pair the exemption with American sign language (ASL) course work outside of the public school - although the latter is not technically required for students to graduate high school in New York.

LOTE Requirements in New York State
There are actually 2 LOTE requirements we are concerned with.  
    First, there is a requirement for all public school students to complete at least 2 units of a LOTE by the end of ninth grade (8 NYCRR § 100.2(d)).  A unit is 180 minutes/week across the school year and can be divided into segments as small as a half unit course.  Two units make one credit.  The department of education (NYS) has a good info document here.  In our district, students take 4 half unit courses leading up to high school to fulfill this state-level requirement.  This fulfills their NY Regents diploma requirement (8 NYCRR § 100.5(b)(7)(iv)(g)).  From a curriculum standpoint, these are all courses that fall under the Checkpoint A learning standards - I think of this as the introductory LOTE course work and students can have any mix of 0.5 units to meet this requirement.  

  Second, colleges often require at least three years worth of LOTE credits.  For a New York student, this is the equivalent of an Advanced Regent's diploma requirement.  These additional two credits must come from courses taught at the Checkpoint B learning standard and require a "locally developed exam" (your foreign language teacher's exam) that was historically weighted by 40% listening, 30% speaking, 20% reading, and 10% writing.  Since 2011, the local school district gets to shape the test as they see fit.  These used to be state administered but are now at the discretion of local instructors, but you can see an example of a state-issued exam here (Spanish 2011).  For some students this means the LOTE instructor can modify the exam to fit your student.  For us this was not a good option but may be an acceptable alternative in other situations.

LOTE Exemption - Our experience
During our IEP review, we requested an exemption from a foreign language.  However, we were not looking to remove the second language component from our daughter's education.  Since this is a standard collegiate requirement, we will need to fulfill this through other means - this is where ASL should be a good fit.  Our exemption request was initially deferred to a later meeting with a district representative, and at the second meeting blocked by our CSE sub-committee and referred to the district office.   
The exemption could be granted by one of two NYS regulations.  The first is the regulations governing special education needs in 8 NYCRR § 100.5(b)(7)(iv)(g) where it states:
"A student identified as having a disability which adversely affects the ability to learn a language may be excused from the language other than English requirement set forth in this subparagraph if such student's individualized education program indicates that such requirement is not appropriate to the student's special education needs. Such a student need not have a sequence in a language other than English but must meet the requirements for the total number of credits required for a diploma."
The other section of legislation is in the general education portion of the law is 8 NYCRR § 100.2(d)(1)(iii)
"A student identified as having a disability which adversely affects the ability to learn a language may be exempted from the requirements set forth in this paragraph if the student's individualized education program, developed in accordance with section 200.4 of this Title states that such requirements are not appropriate."

Here are five academic articles that provide research-based evidence that dyslexia adversely affects the ability to learn a language.  I have provided an overview here for use in case committee meetings as needed.

Crombie, Margaret A. "The effects of specific learning difficulties (dyslexia) on the learning of a foreign language in school." Dyslexia 3.1 (1997): 27-47.
Miles, T. R. "Dyslexia: The pattern of difficulties Whurr." (1993).
Ganschow, L., Sparks, R. and Schneider, E. (1995) Learning a foreign language: challenges
for students with language learning difficulties. Dyslexia, 1, 75–95.
Ganschow, L., Myers, B. and Roeger, K. (1989) Foreign language policies and procedures
for students with specific learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Focus, 5, 50–58.
Ganschow, L., Sparks, R., Javorsky, J. and Patton, J. (1992) Factors relating to learning a
foreign language among high- and low-risk high school students and students with learning
disabilities. Applied Language Learning, 3, 37–63.
Ganschow, L., Sparks, R. (1991) Foreign Language Learning Differences: Affective or Native Language Aptitude Differences?

However,  an additional component of the committee's decision might also include grades for the student.  In our case, our daughter's high marks in the course were taken as evidence her ability to learn was not adversely affected by dyslexia.  Our response (which was not very effective) was to point out the composition of introductory coursework.  Here's what our response looked like:

    During our subcommittee meeting today, it was repeatedly pointed out that X has received excellent marks in her Spanish coursework as well as other subject areas and that this indicated she was not adversely impacted by her learning disability.  However, the emphasis of fifth grade Spanish is on listening and speaking.  Again, X's performance should be expected based on her work ethic and research-based evidence of dyslexic learners.  Crombie (1997) states:

“While there was a significant difference between groups, speaking was the area in which the dyslexic pupils were nearest to the control group for performance. Speaking grades for the dyslexic pupils were also better than for either listening or reading.” 

In other words, the emphasis from the administrative and educational staff present was on her high marks, but this is precisely where X is likely to be able to compensate for her learning disability. For her to gain proficiency and credit for LOTE she is required to pass a locally developed examination of which 30% is based on her reading and writing proficiency.  These components of LOTE are added in later units and based on research for dyslexic students suggests these latter components should be substantial hurdles in LOTE.  
    When looking at X's ELA performance as an indicator of her ability to achieve reading/writing mastery later in LOTE, we repeatedly emphasized the enormous amount of effort that has been expended to move X up to median reading/writing standards.  They also pointed out X's high lexile derived from standardized tests.  (I would caution parents here that lexile derived from standardized tests may be extremely misleading in some cases - see my email exchange with MetaMetrics). We have spent years with private tutors practicing hours each week in addition to heavy resource usage within the school system to develop her current ELA proficiency.  This is in addition to an excessive amount of daily work on her part to complete homework, which has already begun to produce unhealthy amounts of anxiety.  
Thus, it seems inappropriate to lay so much emphasis on her current performance in LOTE given 1) the content of the current 5th grade LOTE relative to what will be required for proficiency and 2) the level of effort that was required to achieve these marks and similar mastery in ELA.  

ASL as LOTE credit
So once we get an exemption, or in the case, our exemption is denied - then what?  
The end result for us is probably going to look the same regardless of which outcome.  How we get there may change a little.  In either case, to use ASL as a school credit, it will have to be approved by "the district".  Ultimately this is the person who signs off on your child's transcript - this is usually the principal but the way to sort this out is by asking who signs off on your child's transcript.  

Exemption Denied
If the LOTE exemption is denied, then we will pursue ASL coursework to act as a transfer credit under (8 NYCRR 100.5(d)(5)) or through an online or blended course  (8 NYCRR 100.5(d)(10)).  Other ways to earn credit are documented here in the NYS Department of Education's World Languages FAQ document.  Again, "the district" will need to sign off on this coursework so do your homework up front to present a clear path to achieve the Checkpoint A/B learning outcomes.  In our case, there are a number of ASL clinics/tutors etc... that we are trying to work with to craft the lessons to meet this distinction.  There needs to be some type of exam that scores the student's ability in ASL that attempts to grade them on the Checkpoint A/B learning outcomes (I think).  

Exemption Approved
Now, if we are approved the exemption, we will be asking for the ASL to count as an elective.  Students who receive the LOTE exemption are required to substitute the LOTE credits with an elective for the Regents diploma.  The only difference from the first case is that now you can also use independent study under (8 NYCRR 100.5(d)(9)) as a route to achieve credit.  We may pursue ASL a cultural study similar to the way Hebrew school, or Chinese school can be substituted as credit.

ASL Checkpoint Guidelines
The NYS Department of Education has an ASL teacher's guide for that outlines the Checkpoint A and Checkpoint B (and C) requirements to cover.  This is the first thing we're sending to our clinics/tutors.  I was also sent a link to a teacher in San Diego that has ASL syllabi for multiple ASL courses at the High School Level.  
Madison ASL units:

LOTE requirement help
Believe it or not, one of the best resources I've found is the NYS Education Department Office of Bilingual Education and Foreign Language Studies (518-474-8775).  They are phenomenally patient and knowledgeable.  

Another resource is the Special Education Quality Assurance (SEQA) Office.  This is the arm of the Department of Education (state level) that ensures school districts are appropriately applying regulation regarding special education services.  For Western New Yorkers the SEQA office webpage ((585) 344-2002) is a great place to go if you're running into a particularly difficult district.  Most often the SEQA office will cite the appropriate legislation but not interpret it.  However, if you can manage to get an interpretation of the law, this can be even more effective than "lawyering up" and going the due process hearing route.  I would surmise this is because a disagreement backed by SEQA has much broader ramifications and school districts might have to drastically alter their approach for not just one case but all cases like it.  That can be costly and districts would typically rather avoid such issues and cave on one particular student rather than face potential sweeping changes if it involves a SEQA interpretation.  This is the route that was successful in our particular case.  

Find an Advocate
This is a tricky one and is (geographic) area specific.  So I can't point to a www.advocatesfordyslexia.com page to point readers.  However, in our case this was invaluable.  Some of the local special education attorneys may be able to point you in the right direction here.  Advocates are important because they can know the law inside and out, but also because they understand the lay of the land.  I was able to read the NYS law and correctly point to the two sections that I felt granted X the right to be exempt.  That may not matter in some cases (it didn't in ours).  Sometimes, there are bigger issues at hand than just my one student need and I realized our case was a one time issue.  We would either be approved or rejected but I wasn't likely going to have to go through the process again start to finish.  Advocates do and in the process begin to see the broader picture of how school systems are functioning.  They can help avoid a train of argument that produces no fruit with a particular district.  They may also have contacts with NYS Education department that allow them to front run some issues.  

Due Process Hearing (Nuclear Option)
We didn't have to go here.  However, looking down the road we could have pursued a due process hearing which would have brought the issue to a head relatively quickly.  It would have involved seeking out a special education attorney.  I believe the school district would be on the hook for the attorney bills if we win - but I would read up on the parental rights before you quote me on that one.  

Other Resources