ANNAPOLIS -- Kathy Levy's students listen to her as best they can. But she worries that even their full attention may not be enough to get them through the state education department's proficiency examinations.

Levy is trying to prepare her eight deaf students to pass the state's mandatory mathematics, writing, reading and citizenship tests.

Although they represent a very small part of Anne Arundel County's 65,000 students, Levy said profoundly deaf teens are especially challenged by the tests, which are being given until Saturday.

Although most of the county's 135 hearing-deficient students are capable of functioning in a classroom with minimal help, all her students are children whose hearing loss is considered "educationally significant."

The writing test is not given until January. Deaf students have a difficult time with the writing and the citizenship exams, which rely heavily on specialized vocabulary, she said. And she fears they may never obtain a high school diploma because they have never been able to acquire the knowledge the tests demand. Instead, they may get only a certificate of attendance.

Levy's frustration lies not with her students' ability, but with her belief that they are trying to catch up with a game they will never win.

"They're operating with a vocabulary deficit," she said. "The vocabulary is so unfamiliar to these kids. When it comes to learning, in other words, they've only ever been able to share half the world other students take for granted."

She said the students often don't hear the "d" sound and fail to put it on their papers to make a verb past tense. The writing test is graded as a whole, but enough grammatical errors can lower a score.