Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

An Investigation of the Need for Sign Language Assessment in Deaf Education

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

An Investigation of the Need for Sign Language Assessment in Deaf Education

Article excerpt

THE ATTITUDES of educators of the deaf and other professionals in deaf education concerning assessment of the use of American Sign Language (ASL) and other sign systems was investigated. A questionnaire was distributed to teachers in a residential school for the deaf in California. In addition to questions regarding the availability of sign language assessment at their schools, participants responded to items concerning their motivation to use a test for sign language measurement. Of the 100 distributed surveys, 85 were completed and returned. Results showed overwhelming agreement among respondents concerning the importance of sign language assessment, along with the need for tools that appropriately measure signing skills.

Few standardized assessment tools are available that effectively provide a detailed evaluation of a deaf individual's ability to use language proficiently, whether in spoken or written form, and particularly in the visual-gestural modality (Haug, 2005). Among the instruments that are used with this target group, most were originally developed for hearing students-e.g., the Carolina Picture Vocabulary Test, 1985-or were standardized more than 25 years ago-e.g., Total Communication Receptive Vocabulary, 1981 (Nielsen & Luetke-Stahlmann, 2002; White & Tischler, 1999).

Widespread use of standardized tests-developed for hearing individuals-for diagnostic and educational placement purposes (French, 1999) fails to detect deaf students' primary linguistic knowledge. Consequently, it is often not possible for professionals in deaf education and related disciplines to adequately evaluate and identify language skills that are effectively developed in deaf children or those skills that require intervention (Schembri et al., 2002). Not only do deaf students receive insufficient accurate feedback from traditional assessment measures; teachers fail to obtain information about the communicative/linguistic abilities of students sufficient to evaluate "the academic progress of their students, which also means the success of their own instruction" (Schembri et al., 2002, p. 19). Moreover, it is mainly on the basis of these communicative and language measures that appropriate intervention approaches can be developed.

Over the past three decades, a growing number of studies have examined the acquisition of natural sign languages in deaf children or have focused on ways to provide a linguistic validation of sign language as a true natural language (e.g., Emmorey, 2002; Morgan, Herman, & Woll, 2002). Most of these studies have focused on American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL), while research on other natural sign languages, in particular, ways to appropriately assess sign language proficiency of deaf children, remains limited. While the lack of instruments to measure deaf students' language capabilities in both sign and written language is discussed in the current literature (e.g., Haug & Hintermair, 2003; Herman, 1998; Johnson, Kimball, & Brown, 2001; Nielsen & Luetke Stahlman, 2002), most reports lack empirical data (e.g., surveys, interviews) to scientifically document the pressing need for such instruments, especially in regard to programs that include a natural sign language as a primary means of instruction. Generating successful academic performance by deaf students over the long term requires that administrators of such programs produce detailed documentation of their objectives and how these objectives are attained. This may include a list of formal assessment procedures (e.g., language tests) as well as informal ones (e.g., in-class observation) used to evaluate students' language proficiency. Information obtained through the use of assessment measures can assist school administrators with placement questions and support educational decisions regarding appropriate support services.

A likely reason for the lack of empirical research on deaf education professionals' perceptions of sign language assessment tests is the varying degree of sign language proficiency deaf children show as a result of their exposure to different forms of sign language input (e. …

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