BALTIMORE – Sign language will soon become an alternative choice for Maryland high school students looking for foreign language credits.
The state board of education Tuesday unanimously approved recommendations by a special task force, the American Sign Language Work Group, to make sign language courses count the same as foreign language classes.
The group, formed last fall to determine if the state should recognize sign language as a foreign language, consists of teachers and education administrators from across the state.
About 700 students already study sign language in Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles and Howard counties, according to Dixie Stack, director of curriculum for the Division of Instruction. These courses currently count as an elective, said Colleen Serement, assistant state superintendent of the Division of Instruction.
Maryland high school students do not have to take a foreign language if they choose instead to take technology-related courses. But for those who do choose to take the foreign language option, sign language will now count just as much as Spanish, French, German or any other language a school may offer.
The board accepted a work group recommendation to make sign language equivalent to a foreign language – rather than defining it as a foreign language – because the federal No Child Left Behind act requires that foreign language courses are taught by highly qualified teachers. This would have forced the state to develop certification regulations before a sign language teacher could be designated as highly qualified.
Carol Ann Baglin, assistant state superintendent of the Division of Special Education and Early Intervention Services, said that making sign language count as a foreign language credit has “very strong support” from the deaf community, partly because it will inspire students to work in deaf education or become interpreters.
“In addition, it will provide within the hearing community and the deaf community a lot of opportunities for some more informal communication … more social opportunities as well as more professional opportunities,” she said. The board also asked for the work group to start developing recommendations for a state-endorsed curriculum and a teacher certification program.