Test-Taking Skills: A Missing Component of Deaf Students' Curriculum

Article excerpt

Often, conclusions about what students have learned in school are based on their performance on standardized or informal tests. For several reasons, these tests may not accurately reflect deaf students' learning. The author discusses the limitations of tests and other "products" administered to students during or after reading that are interpreted as reflecting comprehension of what is read. The author also reviews documented differences in test-taking abilities of deaf and hearing students, and describes specific compensatory testtaking strategies used by deaf readers. A rationale is provided for including a formal test-taking skills component in the curriculum for deaf students. Finally, the author discusses portfolio assessment and contemporary societal forces working against academic testing.

Various standardized reading tests adminis

tered over the past 80 years to deaf students of different ages, consistently indicate that these students' level of reading achievement is significantly below that of their hearing peers (Allen, 1986; Gentile, 1972, 1973; Goetzinger & Rousey, 1959; Holt, 1993; Pintner & Patterson, 1917; Pugh, 1946; Wrightstone, Aronow, & Moskowitz, 1963). The Commission on Education of the Deaf (1988) cited deaf students' scores on standardized reading tests as one of the most serious educational problems facing deaf children in the United States.

The most recent available standardized reading achievement test scores (Norms Booklet, Stanford Achievement Test 1996) show that reading levels are essentially the same today as they were 30 years ago, despite (a) the development and widespread use of manually coded English systems, including Seeing Essential English, or SEE 1 (Anthony, 1971), Signing Exact English, or SEE 2 (Gustason, Pfetzing, & Zawolkow, 1972), Linguistics of Visual English (Wampler, 1971), and Signed English (Bornstein, Saulnier, & Hamilton, 1973-1984), as well as Pidgin Sign English (Woodward, 1973); (b) the extensive use (LaSasso & Mobley, 1997) of Reading Milestones (Quigley & King 1981-1984), a basal reader developed specifically for deaf students; and (c) a substantial body of polemic and research literature addressing language and communication issues (see King & Quigley, 1985; Marschark, 1993; Moores, 1996; and Paul, 1997 for a review of this literature).

The limited success of educational systems in affecting achievement levels of deaf students has led some (Bowe, 1991; Lytle & Rovins, 1997) to suggest that less emphasis be placed on language and communication issues, and greater emphasis be placed on subject matter addressed in the schools and on teachers' ability to address this subject matter. Lytle and Rovins suggest a paradigm shift from how to teach to what to teach, reflecting a similar paradigm shift in general education (Carnegie Forum, 1986; Holmes Group, 1990; National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983).

One of the purposes of the present article is to suggest that the paradigm shift proposed by Lytle and Rovins (1997) be expanded to include specific test-taking abilities needed to demonstrate mastery of subject matter. Typically, conclusions about what deaf students have learned are based on standardized tests, informal tests, and, more recently, portfolios (Abrams, 1991, 1995). In a recent survey of materials and procedures used to develop reading abilities of deaf students in the United States, a coauthor and I found that portfolios were cited more often than standardized tests as being the most accurate measure of reading achievement (LaSasso & Mobley, 1997). Test-taking abilities of deaf students are important because many (if not most) teachers consider test performance a direct reflection of the cognitive learning processes, including reading comprehension. Reading comprehension, like other cognitive processes, is covert and cannot be observed directly. If one is to assess what the student has learned from reading, so that appropriate instruction can be provided, the student needs to do something (i. …