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Characteristics of Effective Interpreter Education Programs in the United States

Lisa Godfrey[1]

University of Tennessee-Chattanooga


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1.       Background

Signed language interpreting
is a relatively new profession in the human services field. Interpreters are
needed in areas including but not limited to education, employment, medical,
legal, financial, state and local government services, and public
accommodations for people with widely divergent linguistic needs. Recent
legislation in the United States mandates the provision of signed language
interpreters in a variety of settings.

Historically, the first interpreters for deaf people were family
members, educators, and clergy (Winston, 2004). As the field moved toward
professionalization, signed language interpreter education programs (IEPs) became
the primary method for producing professional interpreters. However, t
here
remains debate about how to properly educate interpreting students so that they
emerge from IEPs as competent practitioners (Patrie, 1995; Stauffer, 1995; Witter-Merithew
& Johnson, 2005).

In the United
States, three types of interpreting credentials are recognized within the
profession. At the national level, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
(RID) is the governing body that establishes and sustains standards that define
the field of signed language interpreting and that monitors the practice of interpreters.
A first interpreting credential is that the holder of RID’s generalist
certificate has met or exceeded a nationally recognized standard of minimum
competence in interpreting (RID, 2005)and is deemed qualified to interpret in a variety
of settings. A second interpreting credential that has national acceptance—although
on a more limited scale—is the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment
(EIPA; Schick & Williams, 2004). A third interpreting credential is a state-level
credentialing body, often referred to as a state quality assurance screening
(QAS).

Anderson and
Stauffer (1990) first described a crisis situation in the field of signed
language interpreting as the readiness-to-work gap,
which is also referred to as the readiness-to-credential gap. The two concepts are closely related, and the terms are often used
interchangeably; however, there is a distinction. The former (readiness-to-work
gap)
indicates that students graduate but are not ready
to gain employment as an interpreter practitioner who is competent to provide
services across a wide variety of settings (Patrie, 1995; Witter-Merithew &
Johnson, 2005). The latter (readiness-to-credential gap)
indicates that students graduate and may be employed to provide
rudimentary interpreting services in limited settings but are not yet ready to
obtain interpreting credentials set forth by the field at either the state or the
national level. Both terms indicate that IEP graduates are not ready to enter
the interpreting profession as fully qualified and certified professionals. The
sheer demand for interpreters and poor governmental regulation ensure that some
poorly qualified individuals will, in fact, work in situations that exceed
their professional skills. This reality makes the task of statistically measuring
the readiness-to-work gap difficult, if not impossible; using credentials to
measure preparedness is a more objective and quantifiable way to gauge the
actual qualification of IEP graduates. Because of this unfortunate reality, it
may be more appropriate to identify a discrepancy in skills and capability on
the job as the readiness-to-credential gap.

2.       Attempts to address the readiness-to-credential
gap

Soon after the
Anderson and Stauffer (1990) study, several authors (Frishberg, 1995; Patrie, 1995;
Robinson, 1995; Stauffer, 1995) wrote about the readiness-to-work gap. These
authors confirmed that the gap still existed. Over a decade later,
Witter-Merithew and Johnson (2005) reiterated the now-familiar lament from
stakeholders regarding the continued existence of the gap between completion of
a program and readiness for competent practice as evidenced by interpreting credentials.
In three major independent initiatives, researchers have attempted to lessen
the readiness-to-credential gap. In the 1980s,
the field began to expand the condensed skills-focused training from primarily 2-year programs housed in community colleges and
vocational training centers
to broad-based, liberal-arts, 4-year degree
programs (Johnson & Witter-Merithew, 2004). The
understanding was that a longer period of training would yield more competent
graduates, thereby decreasing the readiness-to-credential gap. Next, the
Conference of Interpreter Educators (CIT)
developed national standards
for interpreter education. These national standards were introduced “to be used
for the development of education and self-analysis of post secondary interpreter
education programs” (CIT, 1995, p. 2). These standards were adopted by the Commission
on Collegiate Interpreter Education (CCIE) when official accreditation of programs
began in 2007. Finally, Witter-Merithew and Johnson
(2005) met with stakeholders in the field of interpreting and interpreter
education to identify entry-to-practice competencies and to develop a detailed
list and explanation of each one. However, despite the move to 4-year programs,
the adoption of recognized standards for interpreter education, and the
establishment of entry-to-practice competencies, there remains debate about how
to properly educate interpreting students so that they emerge from IEPs as
competent practitioners.

2.1.     Specific curricular characteristics that affect
readiness of successful IEPs

There is a lack of agreement, profession wide, about what an
interpreter must know and do in order to be most effective at his or her job (Roy,
2000) as well as the scope and sequence of what should be taught in IEPs. In the
current literature, researchers include various potential curriculum-related
strategies for effective interpreting education programs. This current
literature is discussed in the paragraphs that follow.

Cokely’s
(2005) study revealed that most entry-level interpreters engage in one-on-one
interpreting. In this study, the author suggested that the focus of interpreter
education should be more discourse based (i.e., interactive) and less monologue
based. Many researchers agree that interpreting should be taught using discourse
analysis (Roy, 2000; Winston & Monikowski, 2000). Researchers have found teaching
translation skills to be an effective technique because it aids students with a
deeper understanding of the interpreting process and allows students to hone
discrete skill sets without the time-imposed pressure of simultaneous
interpreting (Cokely, 2005; Winston & Monikowski, 2005). The inclusion of
self-assessment (Johnson & Witter-Merithew, 2004; Winston, 2004) is also
recommended as an integral part of the IEP curriculum. In this type of
curriculum, students then take responsibility for their own learning and foster
lifelong learning habits (Winston, 2004).

Community-based
learning also plays an important role in interpreter education. One area that
is lacking is a period of supervised interpreting practicum, such as that required
in the professions of education and medicine (Dean & Pollard, 2001). During
the early years of the interpreting profession, novice interpreters were
apprenticed through involvement and interaction within the Deaf community
(Winston, 2004). This practice diminished with the inception of formal academic
programs (Cokely, 2005), much to the detriment of interpreters. Monikowski and
Peterson (2005) acknowledge the limitations of the classroom environment and promote
service learning as a way to enhance what students learn in the classroom. As
interpreter education “shifted into academia, it has, albeit unintentionally,
lost experience and expertise of the [D]eaf community” (Monikowski & Peterson,
2005, p. 209).

Witter-Merithew
and Johnson (2004) stated that the solution can be found in collective
agreement about entrance and exit criteria for IEPs. Many researchers believe
that one reason for the current readiness-to-credential gap is the lack of an
important prerequisite—that is, skills and fluency in American Sign Language
(ASL) on the part of students entering IEPs. It is unfortunate to note that
successful ASL course completion does not guarantee competence in ASL. Therefore,
IEPs need to establish stricter entrance criteria and, equally important, exit
requirements (Stauffer , 1995). Most graduates of IEPs indicate that the
programs from which they graduated did not have any specified exit requirements
(Witter-Merithew & Johnson, 2005).

2.2.     “Other-than-curricular” characteristics of
successful IEPs that affect readiness

In the literature,
the focus is less related to the attempts to reduce the readiness-to-credential
gap relative to “other-than-curricular”–related characteristics of successful IEPs.
One other-than-curricular characteristic has to do with the length of the IEP. Interpreter
credentialing professionals agree that 2 years is just not enough time to
prepare skilled interpreters (Johnson & Witter-Merithew, 2004; Shaw,
Collins, & Metzger, 2006). Another solution may be to hire more qualified
interpreter educators and to establish more stringent hiring criteria: Winston
(2004) suggests that one critical challenge that IEPs confront daily is the
ability to identify and assess qualified, competent teaching staff. IEPs need
educators who are skilled and competent not only as instructors but also as
practitioners (Roy, 2000). Educators who have advanced training in language
study and who are researchers (Roy, 2000) are better positioned to have success
in preparing students.

3.       Method

In this study, I anticipated identification of “specific curricular”
and “other-than-curricular” characteristics that contribute to lowering the readiness-to-credential
gap. Thus, I sought data that would address related questions—that is,
questions concerning the characteristics of successful IEPs.

3.1.     Participants

In fall 2009, the
National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC) conducted the
Interpreter Education Program Needs Assessment (NCIEC, n.d). The population for
this study on the readiness-to-credential gap was the 2-year and 4-year
interpreting training programs that participated in the 2009 NCIEC IEP Needs
Assessment (NCIEC, n.d). Programs whose responses indicated a lower readiness-to-credential
gap (6–18 months) were considered the more effective IEPs and were categorized
as Tier One schools. The nine Tier One programs were invited to participate in the
next phase (Phase Two) of the data collection; five of the nine invited schools
agreed to participate. During Phase Three, and using the list of schools from
the NCIEC website (NCIEC, n.d.), I sent a second assessment tool to all of the 2-
and 4-year IEPs that had been in existence for the minimum amount of time
required for an entire class to complete the program.

3.2.     Survey instrument and interviews

As noted in the previous paragraph, in this study I used the data
collected by the 2009 NCIEC IEP Needs Assessment. The survey included
information that was related but not limited to the following items:

·       Program age, level, and location

·       Teaching staff, staff educational background,
and interpreting credentials

·       Program budget, program enrollment, class size, and
entrance and exit requirements

·       Student demographics and student load

·       Timeline for completion of the credentialing
process at the state and national levels

During Phase
Two, semistructured interviews were conducted with approved program
representatives. I developed the interview questions,
which were then reviewed by a content expert as well as an expert in program
evaluation. The interview was piloted by four former IEP coordinators. On the
basis of their feedback, I modified the instrument to increase ease and
understanding, and I added additional questions to ensure a comprehensive collection
of relative data.

In Phase
Three, I used the information collected from the literature review, the NCIEC Interpreter
Education Program Needs Assessment, and the Tier One investigation to develop
an assessment tool that categorized suggested characteristics, curricula, and
practices of IEPs. The first portion of the survey asked respondents to
identify the approximate amount of time, relative to graduation, required for
students to earn credentials. The options for respondents were (a) State-administered
credential;
(b) EIPA of 3.5–3.9; (c) EIPA of 4.0 or higher; and (d) National
level (RID).
Respondents were asked to select one
of the following time frames: (a) They have them upon graduation;
(b) 1–6 months; (c) 6–12 months; (d) 13–18 months; (e) 19–24 months; (f) More than 2 years; and (g) We do not track. Date ranges
were selected to parallel the NCIEC study. The two additional time frames—They
have them upon graduation
and 1–6 months—were added because they were not included in the original NCIEC
survey. In the second portion of the survey, respondents were asked to rate (using
a four-point Likert scale) how each item on the scale defines their institution
or is used by their institution (1 = great extent;
2 = moderate extent; 3 = minimal extent; 4 = we do not include it). To
encourage further discussion of the identified characteristics, I provided a
section for comments after each question on the survey. The same instrument verification process was followed for both the
interview questions and the survey questions.

3.3.     Data collection procedures

In this study, I used survey data and personal
interviews as part of a sequential, mixed-method design conducted in three
distinct phases of data collection. The study began with a quantitative
analysis of preexisting data, followed by a semistructured, interview-driven
qualitative investigation and concluded by a quantitatively and qualitatively
analyzed survey.

Phase One used
preexisting data collected by the NCIEC during the 2009 NCIEC IEP Needs
Assessment. The data collected during Phase One were used for two distinct
functions. First the data from the NCIEC Needs Assessment were used to identify
the population for Phase Two of the data collection. Second, information from
the 2009 NCIEC Needs Assessment was used for statistical computations. The
questions—which related to the average time, postgraduation, that students needed
to secure initial national-level professional credentials taken from the 2009 NCIEC
Needs Assessment—were used to establish an IEP group ranking system (see
details in the last paragraph of previous subsection). Institutions that
replied “6–12 months” or “12–18” months were grouped into Tier One;
institutions that replied “19–24 months” were grouped into Tier Two; and institutions
that responded “More than 2 years were grouped into Tier Three. Institutions that
responded “Do not currently track” were eliminated from the study sample.

In Phase Two
of the data collection, five institutions were queried. The primary means of
data collection in this phase was a semistructured phone interview with an approved
program representative. The interview contained open-ended questions to allow
the participant to respond in any manner that he or she wished. Interviews were
recorded, and written transcripts of the sessions were made. Both the original
recording and the hard copy transcript were filed.

In Phase
Three, an invitation to participate in the electronic survey was sent via
e-mail to all of the qualifying programs (n
= 126)
listed on the NCIEC website. Each invitation included either an individual link or an electronic code so that participation
could be tracked. Weekly email reminders were sent during the 2 subsequent
weeks.

4.       Results

Reporting of the
results is organized relative to the research questions. Sections consist of
quantitative and qualitative results, as appropriate. For the qualitative
results, Phase Two respondents are identified alphabetically (Respondent
A–Respondent E) and Phase Three respondents are identified numerically
(Respondent 1–Respondent 26).

4.1.     What is the readiness-to-credential gap of IEPs in
the United States?

Descriptive
statistics were used to address research Question 1. Tables 1 and 2 present
data from the 2009 NCIEC IEP Needs Assessment. Table 3 demonstrates the
credential rate of the queried institutions. The largest percentage (n
= 14, 42.4%) indicates institutions that require a period of more
than 2 years from the time students graduate to the time that they earn their
credentials at the national level.

Table 1: Credential Rate—Phase One Data (NCIEC)

Institutions
divided by tier

Frequency

%

Tier 1: 6–18 months

9

27.3

Tier 2: 19–24 months

10

30.3

Tier 3: More
than 2 years

14

42.4

Total       

33

100

 

 

 

 

Table 2 demonstrates
the timeline for credentialing using Phase Three data. State-level credentials
are earned at a much faster rate than are national-level credentials.

 

Table 2: Timeline for Credentialing—Phase Three Data

Readiness-to
Credential

State

National

gap

frequency

%

frequency

%

They have them upon graduation

9

34.6

1

3.8

1– 6 months

1

3.8

2

7.7

6–12 months

5

19.2

2

7.7

13–18 months

2

7.7

6

23.1

19–24 months

1

3.8

3

11.5

More than 2 years

5

19.2

7

26.9

Missing

3

11.5

5

19.2

Total

26

100

26

100

 

Table 3 indicates
the measures of central tendency
for the
credential rates. The average amount of time needed to earn state level
credentials is 7–12 months, whereas the average amount of time needed to earn
national-level credentials is 18–20 months—the approximate the midpoint between
13–18 months 19–24 months—which is represented by a mean score of 2.619. The
majority of programs indicate that their graduates are able to earn state-level
credentials upon graduation but that more than 24 months are required to earn
national-level credentials.

 

Table 3: Measures of Central Tendency for Credential Rates—Phase Three
Data

Factor

N

M

Mdn

Mode

State level

23

4

4.00

6

National level

21

2.619

3.00

1

Note. 6 = Upon graduation; 5 = 1–6 months; 4 = 7–12 months; 3 = 13–18 months;
2 = 19–24 months; 1 = More than 2 years.

 

Using these data, the
readiness-to-credential gap can best be explained that graduates from 4-year
program may be able to secure state-level credentials upon graduation but may
take up to 1 year to earn national-level credentials. Graduates from associate-level
programs may require almost 2 years for state-level credentials and more than 2
years for national-level credentials.

4.2.     What curricular-related characteristics of
successful IEPs affect readiness?

For the purpose of
this study, the term curricular-related characteristics
refers to any item that is related to program requirements, instruction,
and/or assessment. Both quantitative and qualitative data were used to address
this research question.

 

4.2.1    Quantitative results

Table 4 indicates
the extent to which IEPs incorporate various curricular factors, as found in
the Phase Three survey. Almost 81% indicated that they incorporate self-analysis
to a great extent. A total of 69.2% of the programs indicated that they
incorporate critical thinking to a great extent, and 65.4% of the programs
indicated that they incorporate discourse-based instruction to a great extent.

 

Table 4: Incorporation of Curricular Factors—Phase Three Data

Curricular factor

Great extent

(%)

Moderate extent

(%)

Minimal

extent

(%)

Do not include it

(%)

Did not answer

(%)

Discourse-Based
Approach

65.4

34.6

0

0

0

Discourse Analysis

46.2

50

3.8

0

0

Consecutive Interpreting
Instruction

53.8

42.3

3.8

0

0

Transcription

7.7

53.8

26.9

7.7

3.8

Translation

23.1

57.7

11.5

3.8

3.8

D-CS

34.6

26.9

26.9

11.5

0

Critical Thinking

69.2

23.1

7.7

0

0

Self-Analysis

80.8

11.5

3.8

0

3.8

Preparation for Credential

34.6

38.5

15.4

0

11.5

Service Learning

30.8

38.5

3.8

19.2

7.7

Portfolios

26.9

30.8

19.2

11.5

11.5

Note. D-CS = Demand-Control Schema (Dean & Pollard, 2001).

 

Table 5 presents chi-square
results using the Phase Three data for curricular factors relative to state-
and national-level credentialing rates, respectively. Thirteen tests failed to
reach the conventional rejection alpha level of .05 and, therefore, failed to
reject the null hypotheses. The single exception was service learning at the
state level. The four programs that indicated no inclusion of service learning
require a period of more than 2 years before the student can obtain state-level
credentialing.

 

Table 5: Chi-Square for Curricular
Factors—Phase Three Data

 

Factor

 

State

df

 

p

 

National

df

 

p

Consecutive
Interpreting Instruction

9.20

10

.513

7.370

5

.195

Discourse-Based
Approach

6.17

10

.800

4.341

5

.501

Discourse
Analysis

6.491

10

.772

4.105

5

.534

Transcription

23.514

20

.264

7.012

15

.957

Translation

22.697

20

.304

10.783

15

.768

D-CS

17.621

15

.283

14.733

15

.471

Critical Thinking

11.483

10

.321

11.133

10

.347

Self-Analysis

8.474

10

.583

12.255

10

.268

Preparation for
Credentials

19.473

15

.193

17.045

15

.316

Service Learning

34.628

20

.022*

24.444

15

.058

Portfolio

26.398

20

.153

20.089

20

.452

Entry Requirements

10.276

10

.417

9.137

10

.519

Exit Requirements

8.532

5

.129

7.255

5

.202

Note. State, N = 22; national, N = 21.

*p < .05.

 

4.2.2    Qualitative results

 

Entrance
Requirements

Entrance
requirements differ from college to college, but there was consensus that
strict entrance requirements impact student success. Four of the five programs
have rigorous requirements for entrance into the interpreting portion of the
program. Respondent E indicated that because the selection process into the IEP
is carefully conducted, most students succeed once they are admitted. The one
university (Respondent B) that does not have entrance requirements into the
interpreting department indicates that the university is so selective that they
enroll high-quality students into the program without any additional selection
criteria.

 

Exit
Requirements

There are differing
opinions regarding the use of exit examinations. Only one of the five programs
interviewed in Phase Two required an external performance examination. Three of
five encourage an external performance examination but do not require it. Respondent
D purported that the key to student success is setting exit requirements. She
stated, “[I]t impacts their involvement and dedication and how they do their
work hours and how they interact” and, therefore, concluded that establishing
exit requirements does, in fact, affect credentialing. Respondent C’s program
requires students to undergo the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment
(Schick & Williams, 2004), however she believes that this requirement is
not an extrinsic motivation that leads to credentialing; rather, the motivation
to earn credentials is intrinsic.

 

Curriculum
in General

Only one
respondent, Respondent B, indicated that the strength of the program was
directly related to the interpreting program curriculum. She argued that most
places do what they have always done.

 

Instructional
and Assessment Techniques

The respondents in
Phases Two and Three all tended to be eclectic in their instructional approach,
not favoring a specific approach or technique over another. Respondent A
described her program as having more of a breadth of knowledge versus the depth
of any specific approach. The same results were found for the types of
assessments used. These types varied greatly among the respondents. There was
no consistent approach, format, or rubric.

 

Practicum

In Phases Two and
Three, the requirements for the practicum varied in structure and duration. Three
of the five Phase Three respondents indicated that the practicum experience was
one of the more critical factors to student success. Respondent C indicted that
“What goes on in the classroom is a minor part of our students learning the
language/culture. Internship classes are crucial to skill development.”

 

Service Learning

Respondent C
indicated that service learning has an amazing impact on the success of her
students. Respondent 15 indicted “It does improve student’s understanding of
deaf individuals and their comfort level with them, which probably improves
their performance to some extent on the state test.

4.3.     What “other-than-curricular”–related
characteristics of successful IEPs affect readiness?

For the purpose of
this study, the term “other than curricular”–related characteristics
refers to any item that is not directly related to program
requirements, instruction and/or assessment but instead deals with factors such
as type of program and student, class size, quality of faculty, adequacy of
resources and technology, funding, campus and community environment, and out-of-class
opportunities. Both quantitative and qualitative data were used to address this
research question.

4.3.1    Quantitative results

Table 6 represents
chi-square results using the NCIEC results for “other than curricular” factors
relative to tier rank of the programs. Most tests failed to reach the
conventional rejection level of .05 and, therefore, failed to reject the null
hypotheses. The single exception in this set of data is the type or length of
program. I conducted a two-way contingency table analysis to evaluate whether there
was a difference in the tier rank on the basis of program length. The two
variables were tiers (Tiers One, Two, and Three) and program length (2- and 4-year).
Tier rank and program length were found to be significantly related, ?²(2, N
= 33) = 20.32, p = .00. The decision
was made to reject the null hypotheses. One-hundred percent of the schools in
Tier one were 4-year programs; in contrast, none of the schools with associate
levels belonged to Tier One. This trend is further amplified by the fact that 93%
of the schools in Tier Three have 2-year programs, and only 7% have 4-year
programs.

 

Table 6: ?² for “Other-Than-Curricular” Factors—Phase One Data (NCIEC)

Factor

df

p

Degree type

20.315

2

.000**

Type of institution

4.997

2

.082

Minimum degree of
program director

7.726

4

.102

Minimum credential
for program director

9.120

4

.058

Resources

19.762

16

.231

Minimum degree
for FT interpreting faculty

6.140

8

.632

Minimum credential
for FT interpreting faculty

4.058

4

.398

Minimum degree
for FT ASL faculty

5.063

8

.751

Minimum credential for FT ASL faculty

13.551

8

.094

Institutional support

3.861

2

.145

Note. FT = full-time; ASL = American Sign Language.

**p ? .01.

 

 

Table 7 represents
the results of two chi-squares for “other-than-curricular” factors. I conducted
two 2-way contingency table analyses to evaluate whether there was a
relationship between the tier rank and the date when the program was established.
For the first chi-square, the two variables were tiers and the decade in which
the program began (1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.). The results were ?²(6, N
= 33) = 7.936, p = .243. A similar chi-square
was conducted using the same tier rank but grouping the establishment dates
into larger time frames (“prior to 1990” and “1991–present”). The relationship
between the tier ranks and the two-decade grouping of when the programs were
established was analyzed, and the two were found to be significantly related,
?²(2, N
= 33) = 6.947, p = 31. The decision was to reject the null hypotheses. A total of
77.8% (n
= 7) of the Tier One schools were
established subsequent to 1990, whereas 76.9 % (n
= 10) of the Tier Three schools were established prior 1990.

 

Table 7: ?² for “Other-Than-Curricular” Factors—Phase One Data (NCIEC)

Factor

df

p

Single-Decade
Grouping Program Was Established

7.936

6

.243

Grouping Program Was
Established

6.947

2

.031*

p < .05.

 

Table 8 represents chi-square
results of “other-than-curricular” factors relative to state- and national-level
credentialing rates. At the state level, most tests failed to reach the
conventional rejection levels of .05 and, therefore, failed to reject the null
hypotheses. The exception was Type of Program. I conducted a two-way
contingency table analysis to evaluate whether there was a difference in the rate
to credentialing on the basis of the incorporation of Type of Program. The two
variables were time to credential (upon graduation; 1–6 months; 7–12 months;
13–18 months; 19–24 months; more than 24 months) and type of program (2-year or
4-year). Time to credential and type of program were found to be significantly
related, ?²(5, N
= 23) = 14.629, p = .012. The decision was made to reject the null hypothesis. At the
national level, all tests failed to reach the conventional rejection levels of
.05 and, therefore, failed to reject the null hypotheses.

 

Table 8: ?² for “Other-Than-Curricular” Factors—Phase Three Data

Factor

 

State

df

 

p

 

National

df

 

p

Degree Type

14.629

5

.012*

10.977

5

.052

Type of Students

16.299

15

.362

17.576

15

.286

Support by
Community

8.780

15

.889

8.750

5

.119

Interaction with
Native Users

12.157

15

.667

23.600

15

.072

Classroom
Facilities

19.354

20

.499

22.708

20

.303

Resources

17.559

20

.616

25.750

20

.174

Lab Facilities

10.819

15

.765

21.563

15

.120

Technology

10.083

15

.814

24.950

15

.051

Cohort System

12.031

10

.283

13.165

10

.215

Note. State, N = 23; national, N = 21. *p < .05.

4.3.2    Qualitative results

 

External Opportunities
for Learning

All of the Phase
Two programs provide external opportunities to foster language acquisition and
interpreting skill, and respondents agree that such opportunities are
beneficial to the students. This is accomplished through service learning,
campus clubs, classroom requirements, and individuals from IEPs actually getting
out into the larger community. Most of the Phase Two programs were located
within a large Deaf community, and representatives from both programs agreed that
close proximity to a large Deaf population is an advantage. Respondent E
believed that interaction with the local Deaf community is vital to student
success. Respondent 18 echoed this sentiment by saying, “Students who willingly
make friends with members of the Deaf community and interact more than the
required amount of time tend to do MUCH better on their state certification
exam[s].”

 

Teaching Staff

All five
respondents discussed the importance of a high-quality teaching staff that
consists of competent educators as well as practitioners. Respondent C stressed
this point by saying that one of the more critical components to student
success is a highly qualified staff, all of whom are credentialed, involved in
professional development, and active at the national level. She went on to say
that “I don’t think that we would have the curriculum in the way that it is
structured if we didn’t have the faculty to make it so. I think that, certainly,
curriculum is crucial, but the only reason we have that curriculum is because
we have such qualified faculty…you couldn’t have a curriculum without the
faculty that supports it.”

The five
respondents unanimously agreed that having teaching staff who are engaged as
practitioners is an important factor for student success. Respondent B supported
this assertion by stating that teachers who continue their work as
interpreting practitioners ultimately experience the most benefit. Respondent C
added that it is important to have recent practical experience. Respondent E
drove the point home by adding, “We are only as good as our up-to-date
knowledge and skill[s], and we are only as good as we are invested in the
community.”

5.       Limitations of the study

This study had two
main limitations. The first limitation was a lack of tracking of graduate
credential rates on the parts of IEPs nationwide. In a 2009 NCIEC survey (Cokely
& Winston, 2010), 130 programs were invited to participate. Fifty-four
institutions responded to the survey. Of those, 30% of 2-year programs and 28 %
of 4-year programs did not track graduate credential rates. Lack of tracking
data results in a less-than-complete understanding of the current state of
interpreter education in the United States. This limitation was beyond my control
as a researcher.

The second
limitation centered on the Phase Three Survey response rate. The return rate
for Phase Three was 20%. There were several potentially contributing factors to
the low response rate. The survey contained 112 questions—with 51 questions
allowing for qualitative responses—and took between 20 and 30 minutes to
complete. Additionally, the survey was deployed in late spring near the end of
the traditional academic year. Because most IEPs are small departments staffed
with a single full-time faculty member who also administers the program, that
faculty member may not have had the time needed to complete the survey.

 

6.       Discussion

6.1.     What is the readiness-to-credential gap of
signed language IEPs in the United States?

When considering
the NCIEC data information that combined 2-year and 4-year programs and looked
only at national-level credentials, the readiness-to-credential gaps can be
described as follows: 27.3% of students are able to obtain credentials within
6–18 months postgraduation; another 30.3% of students are able to earn them
within 18–24 months after graduation; and 42.4% of students require more than
24 months to obtain national credentials.

Using the
Phase Three data, the average amount of time needed to earn state-level
credentials (regardless of type of program) is 7–12 months, whereas the average
amount of time needed to earn national-level credentials is between 18 and 19
months. The majority of programs indicate that their graduates are able to earn
state-level credentials upon graduation, but more than 24 months are required
to earn national-level credentials.

When applying
the Phase Three data to further explore the credential rate at the state level,
it is reported that 72.7% (n
= 8) of graduates
from 4-year degree programs are able to earn state-level credentials upon
graduation. The remaining 27.3% (n
= 3) have
state-level credentials within 6–12 months. One-hundred percent of graduates
have state-level credentials within 1 year of graduation. Conversely, for students
in associate- level programs, only 8% (n
= 1)
have credentials upon graduation, and only 33.3% percent have their state-level
credentials 1 year after graduation. For 66.7% of graduates from 2-year
programs, it takes more than a year, and 41.7% require more than 2 years
postgraduation to earn state-level credentials.

When applying Phase Three data to further
explore the credential rate at the national level, only the graduates from one
program had national credentials upon graduation—and that was a 4-year program.
Fifty percent (n
= 5) of 4-year-program graduates
require 13–18 months after graduation to earn national-level credentials. Eighty
percent (n
= 8) have national credentials by
13–18 months postgraduation. Only 20% (n
= 2)
require 19–24 months, and no program requires longer than 24 months. Alternatively,
when considering the average graduates from 2-year programs, 63% require more
than 2 years postgraduation to earn national-level credentials.

6.2.     What curricular-related characteristics of
successful IEPs affect readiness?

6.2.1    Various suggested approaches

In the literature
review, several approaches or skills were suggested as a means of fostering
effective interpreter education. Some researchers assert that the basis for the
credentialing gap is that the “monologue” approach used by most IEPs is less
than effective (Cokely, 2005; Roy, 2000). The present study’s results showed
that 65.4% of the respondents use a discourse-based approach to instruction to
a great extent in classroom discussion. Winston (2004) states that critical
thinking skills are key to an interpreting education, and of the programs in
this study, 69.2% incorporate critical thinking to a great extent. Winston
(2004) also suggests that students need to assess their own skills and
abilities, construct knowledge (vs. simply receiving it), and take
responsibility for their own learning, thus fostering lifelong learning habits.
In this study, 80.8% of respondents indicated that they incorporate self-analysis
to a great extent. It appears that programs are including some of the suggested
approaches. This may indicate a shift in what is being included in programs. Much
of the literature regarding interpreter education has been written within the
last decade, and books that have been published as part of the Effective
Interpreting Series
(Roy, 2000, 2005, 2006; Napier,
2009) have increased the dissemination of information, potentially resulting in
the inclusion of suggested techniques. What were former gaps in instruction are
now being covered by the curriculum.

6.2.2    Practicum

Dean and Pollard (2001) suggested that the
requirement of more structured supervision in the interpreting practicum would
lead to more effective interpreting programs. Quantitatively (Phase Three), the
results regarding practicum were not significant, but the qualitative data
confirmed a significant impact.
In Phases Two and
Three, the requirements for the practicum varied in structure and duration;
however, regardless of the structure or requirements, three of the five Phase
Three respondents indicated that the practicum experience was a critical factor
to student success. Respondent C indicted that “What goes on in the classroom
is a minor part of our students learning the language/culture. Internship
classes are crucial to skill development.” These data strongly suggest that the
practicum experience has a considerable impact on student success. Just as
student teaching is a key experience that is integral to the development of a
teacher (Guyton & McIntyre, 1990), the practicum experience is critical to
the development of competent interpreting practitioners.

6.2.3    Service learning

During consideration of the Phase Three data, it was found that time
to state-level credentials and incorporation of service learning were
significantly related. It is important to note that
the significance was not in the number of programs that incorporated service
learning but, rather, in those who did not incorporate it; graduates from all
four programs who did not incorporate service learning did not earn state-level
credentials until more than 2 years post graduation. Students who responded
indicated that service learning experiences added something unique to their
understanding of what they were learning in the classroom (Monikowski &
Peterson, 2005).

6.3.     What “other-than-curricular”–related
characteristics of successful IEPs affect readiness?

The results from this study revealed evidence that more significant
differences can be observed when considering “other-than-curricular”
characteristics than when considering curricular characteristics. These differences
are discussed in the paragraphs that follow.

6.3.1    Type of program

The most
significant difference can be seen with the type of program. The discussion of
this factor has already been covered previously in this article, in the
discussion centering on the current school-to-credential gap. It is abundantly
clear that graduates from 4-year programs earn state- and national-level credentials
at a much faster rate than do their counterparts at 2-year colleges. Despite this, 2-year degree programs outnumber 4-year
degree programs almost two to one[2]. And the number of students being
educated in 2-year programs exceeds the number of students being educated in 4-year
programs almost three to one. According to the 2009 NCIEC IEP Needs Assessment (Cokely
& Winston, 2010), a total of 1,037 students are enrolled in associate-level
programs, whereas only 378 students are enrolled in baccalaureate-level
programs.

6.3.2    Teaching staff

The key finding in
the Phase Two qualitative portion of the study was the importance of the programs’
teaching staff. This finding overwhelmingly affirms the general conclusions of
the literature that one solution for reducing the school-to-credential gap lies
in using more qualified interpreter educators. Clearly, there is a documented
need for educators who are skilled and competent as educators as well as
practitioners (Roy, 2000; Winston, 2004). Interpreter educators need to
understand how learning best occurs, be able to construct learning activities
based on the learner’s needs, and evaluate their own effectiveness as educators
(Winston, 2004). Educators who have advanced training in language study and who
are researchers (Roy, 2000) are better positioned to experience success in
preparing students. Winston (2004) suggested that one of the two critical
challenges that IEPs confront daily is the ability to identify and assess
qualified, competent faculty.

A major concern related to this finding is that according to the
NCIEC 2009 IEP Assessment (Cokely & Winston,
2010), 43 signed language interpreter educators in the United States are
expected to retire within the next 5 years, and it is projected that an
additional 175 educators will be needed in the next 5 years. This shortfall
makes the findings discussed here even more critical to the field.

6.3.3    Age of program

Another factor that
reportedly had a significant impact on the IEP’s success was the time-period in
which the program was established—a factor not considered in any of the literature
identified in this study. A significant relationship was found between (a) the
tier ranks and (b) the two-decade grouping identifying when the programs were
established. The study revealed that 77.8% (n
= 7)
of the Tier Three schools were established subsequent to 1990, whereas 76.9% (n
= 10) of the Tier One schools were established prior to 1990.

It could be that the older programs are the
associate-level programs and, as previously discussed, the 4-year programs seem
to be more effective than the 2-year programs when considering the school-to-credential
gap. This study showed that 58% (n
= 11) of
associate-level programs were established prior to 1990, and 85% (n
= 13) of baccalaureate-level programs were established subsequent
to 1990. It could also be that associate-level programs were established long
ago and may be using outdated methods and approaches.

6.3.4    Involvement in the Deaf community

There is general
consensus that successful IEPs infuse the knowledge and experience of the Deaf
community into every aspect of the program (Cokely, 2005; Roy, 2000; Monikowski
& Peterson, 2005; Winston, 2004; Witter-Merithew & Johnson, 2004)
because they are essential language and cultural models.

6.3.5    Summary

All of the Phase
Two programs provide external opportunities to foster language acquisition and
interpreting skill enhancement, and all program representatives who were
interviewed agree that this activity is beneficial to students. Programs
demonstrated a clear intention to develop and foster service learning programs,
campus clubs, and activities to provide students with additional community-based
interaction. Most of the Phase Two programs were located within a large Deaf
community, and program directors agreed that close proximity to a large Deaf
population is an indisputable advantage. The key to this finding is that
regardless of the numerous opportunities that a program provides, it is the
frequency with which students avail themselves to such opportunities that will
ultimately influence their success.

6.4.     Additional findings

An interesting and incidental discovery in this research—one that
does not directly address a specific research question—centers on the intended purpose or expected end result of a degree in signed
language interpreting
. The prevailing
literature supports the belief that IEPs should result in credential-ready
graduates. The literature bemoans the school-to-credential gap and insists that
steps need to be taken to change it. A large number of researchers (
Cokely,
2005; Frishberg, 1995; Patrie, 1995; Robinson, 1995; Stauffer, 1995; Winston, 2004;
Witter-Merithew & Johnson, 2004, 2005) indicate that programs need to
produce graduates who are able to earn interpreting credentials after
graduation. However, a few programs disagree with
this school of thought. Respondent 22, for example, stated, “Ours i[s] an entry-level
program. We are not preparing people for national certification.” This
respondent goes on to say, “[T]he goal of our program is not for students to be
nationally certified. There is no way they could be ready for national certification
in 3 years.” Respondent 19 indicated that her program cautions students that
few will be ready for the performance/interview portion of the RID upon
graduation. And, finally, Respondent 6 stated, “I object to the assumption here
that the goal is to lower the graduation-to-credentialing gap. Two years of
seasoning post graduation with intense mentorship should be expected and not [be
seen] as a catalyst to credentialing. Your metric here is flawed . . . We are
not aiming to speed this process up. We are aiming to foster lifelong learning
and professional development.” The issue of the goal of credential-ready
graduates is not universally accepted, and it will be difficult for the
interpreter education professionto move forward without consensus on this
important goal.

7.       Implications

On the basis of these research findings, the
following recommendations are offered:

·       IEPs need to receive additional support that will allow them to track
students. This support should come in the form of national database, which is
a major need for a future research agenda..

·       Opportunities for teaching staff development need to be increased. Apart
from the biannual convention of the Conference of Interpreter Trainers, the
field provides IEP teaching staff very few opportunities to further develop their
skills.

·       Two-year interpreting programs need to be restructured so that their
curricula are better aligned to facilitate student transfer into baccalaureate-
level programs.

·       IEPs need to foster more opportunities for out-of-classroom learning.
Programs need to provide students with real-world experience through
interaction within the Deaf and interpreting communities through practica and
service learning.

8.       Conclusion and recommendations for future
research

The
school-to-credential gap in interpreter education is a systemic crisis whose
resolution will require collaboration among all stakeholders.
Because IEPs are the primary producers of interpreters, the future
of the interpreting field lies in the quality of education delivered by these
IEPs. If changes are not made to improve the quality of the education provided
by IEPs, the status quo will remain, and the field of interpreting will stagnate
while deaf individuals suffer because of less-than-competent, unqualified
interpreters. Considering the growing needs of well-trained
interpreting professionals—and the near-crisis-level shortage of active
interpreters that looms ahead—careful attention to this issue is essential. Change
is required. Witter-Merithew and Johnson (2005) summarize the direction of the
interpreter education field as follows: “[I]t is time [that] we held employers’
feet to the fire, set ourselves a deadline, and begin working on the
infrastructures. We all own the gap” (p. 15).

As a result of this study, the following
recommendations are suggested for further research:

·       Acquire a better understanding of alumni’s program perceptions: This
study considered the perceptions of program directors. Program graduates may
have differing viewpoints.

·       Conduct quasiexperimental studies using control groups to
empirically determine the effectiveness of various instructional approaches:
This study yielded very general results regarding the effectiveness of various approaches
and factors. A series of experimental designs—each of which considers a single
approach—would enable more in-depth consideration of the various approaches.

9.       Acknowledgment

This article is a condensed version of a larger report
(Godfrey, 2010) produced as a consequence of this study. This article includes
the salient major points. Further details of the study can be obtained by
contacting the author. The author would like to thank her dissertation
committee for their help with the project: Dr. Ted Miller (Chair), Dr.
Hinsdale Bernard, Dr. John Freeman, and Dr. Elizabeth Winston.

10.    References

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Commission on Collegiate Interpreter
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[1] Correspondence to: lgodfreyinterpreting@gmail.com

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[2]See see www.rid.org