Of all the reasons we elementary school kids got to escape the monotony of class for a while, the annual hearing test may have been the most confusing. You typically would sit down in a chair, put on a huge set of headphones and follow a variety of instructions.
Sometimes you would have to report when you heard a noise and sometimes you would have to decipher in which ear you heard the noise. I do not know that I would be any better at the test today, but it was always a challenge for my little ears. The confusion is not unlike that of a visit to the optometrist when the doctor asks you which of two identical lenses looks to provide a clear view. I could barely tell which ear the sound was coming through; I just knew that it was there.
Sometimes the sound would get so false that I was not sure if it was real or just my nerves and imagination playing tricks on me. After this common confusion, I was always sent back to class with the rest of the kids, so I suppose I did OK.
But what are these tests all about?
Most states have some law requiring children to get tested for hearing and / or vision problems before and / or during their time at school. A list of every states 'law relating to these screenings can be found at the National Association of State Boards' website. The hearing related laws are encouraged by the American Speech Language Hearing Association, which recommends children's hearing get tested before they enter school, then every year until third grade and then again if they are held back a grade.
The most common type of hearing test used in elementary schools is called an audiogram. As many of us may remember, the audiogram requires the child to put on a pair of headphones. The person administering the hearing test plays a beep or tone at varying pitches and volumes. The child is usually instructed to raise his or her hand or to push a clicker whenever he or she believes a sound is played. Then, the tester will play the tone only in one ear of the headphones at a time and instruct the child to indicate which ear he or she hears the tone in and when.
This type of hearing test, though simple, answers many questions about a person's hearing ability. A person who is not completely blind may still suffer from color blindness, nearsightedness or farsightedness. Likewise, a person who is not completely deaf may still have some level of hearing deficiency. The audiogram can tell if the student can detect all normal levels of volume and all normal levels of pitch in each ear.
The tests are encouraged to provide the necessary intervention where possible to protect students and to ensure they all have a fair shot in school. Unlike vision, it is more difficult for a non-expert to pick up on a young child's hearing disability if it is not a major one.