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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Assessing Deaf Adults: Critical Issues in Testing and Evaluation

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Addressing such serious flaws is, however, another matter entirely, because deaf or hard of hearing test-takers constitute such a small minority of any constituency taking such examinations, whether it is a high school student body, a college-entrance cohort, or individuals seeking professional certification or licensure in a given state. Thus, while the technology of test development would, in theory, allow each of these flaws to be addressed and remedied by the production of an alternative form, such an action is not realistic. Alternative versions of the same test are costly to produce and would represent a discernable loss in revenue for the test developer in view of the small number of deaf and hard of hearing candidates paying fees for such alternative-version examinations. However, making test developers aware of these flaws may allow for modifications in the test development guidelines, since in some cases, the changes needed to increase equity for deaf and hard of hearing candidates may improve item clarity for all test-takers.

How else have test administrators chosen to recognize this inequity, after it has been brought to their attention through complaints, hearings, or litigation? One response has been to allow certain accommodations during examinations. These have in general fallen into several categories:

1. Allowing sign language interpreters for the giving of instructions by the test administrator; this accommodation is now required in law by the Americans With Disabilities Act, if it is requested.

2. Allowing the candidate additional time, most commonly 50% more. This accommodation allows some deaf and hard of hearing candidates time needed to process English and may create a more level playing field.

3. A private room or work station so that the deaf or hard of hearing examinee can work at his or her own pace without the pressure of a group-administered test.

4. A paper-and-pencil version of a test that is usually computer administered, especially when it is not possible to grant extended time for the computer-delivered version.

5. Sign language interpretation of the entire examination by a certified sign language interpreter.

Let us now examine each of these accommodations and their consequences. Allowing a sign language interpreter for the instructions, which is now required for all who request it, can avoid any ambiguities in what is expected of the test-taker. It also ensures that the candidate has equal access to information that may impact safety and comfort. Allowing additional time to take the test has enabled some deaf and hard of hearing test-takers, whose score was close to passing, to pass because of the removal of a very limited time constraint. In the case of an individually administered examination, again the pressure of time and peer group is removed and can make a difference for deaf and hard of hearing test-takers whose scores are bordering on passing in any case. But none of these accommodations may sufficiently compensate for the fundamental flaw of unequal access to English.

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