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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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In the case of the fifth accommodation—allowing a sign language interpreter to sign the entire examination—there is the risk of altering what is being measured or creating an unduly challenging or much easier examination because both the language and the modality have been changed. Off-the-cuff interpretation without advance preparation is virtually impossible. Considerable expertise and collaboration are needed to create a test translation, whether for presentation via video technology or live with an interpreter. And there are other factors to consider as well, such as the interpreter’s skill level and whether he or she is knowledgeable about the test material.

If these accommodations are not capable of fully addressing the problem, then what other options for action are available? One option has been for the decision-making body to award a waiver and simply excuse the deaf or hard of hearing individual from the examination. However, this action is definitely less desirable in the eyes of both hearing officials and the Deaf community because it then could permit deaf or hard of hearing persons who are genuinely not qualified to pass and either graduate or become licensed. Is any other option available?


One of the critical problems with licensure testing and high-stakes testing for students has been the basing of important educational decisions on a single criterion—namely, a written examination. This limitation applies to hearing, non-disabled individuals as well as those with disabilities, but may have graver implications when the single measure directly or indirectly focuses on a given disability. A clear option is a multiple-measures approach to evaluation, not restricted to multiple-choice examinations.

The state of the art in educational measurement has grown significantly since the early 1990’s when the American Educational Research Association (AERA) officially endorsed the validity of certain non-quantitative, or qualitative, methods in research and evaluation. While certain qualitative techniques had been utilized for many years, they were accorded an important legitimacy by the action of the AERA. Some of these techniques, which can be adapted to the measurement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals, include:

1. The analysis of candidate portfolios, which are an accumulation of data showing the level of mastery of a subject. Oftentimes, well-constructed and validated sets of rubrics are useful in the hands of a panel of reviewers when applied to student or candidate products. This alternative is available to deaf students with multiple disabilities now, but is viewed as highly exceptional and is not available to the deaf and hard of hearing population as a whole.

2. Live or videotaped observations of students or candidates involved in a particular task, which is being evaluated for competency. This process requires trained observers using a systematic observation protocol.

3. Interactive interviews of students or candidates in reference to a specific skill or understanding, using a systematic interview protocol that has been pilot-tested and validated by a trained interviewer.

4. Open-ended essay tasks that require the student or candidate to express in their own words, with elaboration, their response to a situation or problem (as opposed to responding to a multiple-choice item).

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