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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Testing Deaf Students in an Age of Accountability

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Intense demands on local resources. The demands on local resources can be extreme when providing accommodations in testing situations. Appropriate implementation of accommodations requires extensive time for preparation before the test, professional development to build capacity and maximize consistency, the delivery of timely technical assistance to faculty and staff members who are administering the test during the official test dates, and a disproportionate number of faculty and staff members for test administration. Table 10.2 shows the number of staff members required to administer a reading test with accommodations for Grades 3 though 10 at DSD.


Challenges with test administration include logistical issues such as adequate time for training and preparation as well as scheduling and time constraints that interrupt the flow of the testing sessions. Additionally, the need to ensure sufficient numbers of available and qualified faculty and staff members affects administration. All of the aforementioned issues certainly influence the validity of the test and resulting outcomes.

One of the allowable accommodations in Delaware includes signing test directions and portions of the test. It is necessary to receive testing materials in advance to adequately prepare staff members to provide this accommodation; however, test security restrictions often limit how much in advance of the actual testing dates the materials can be received. In addition to training faculty and staff members to sign directions, questions, and passages, adequate time and staff resources are needed to make transparencies of the test items so students have a visual referent when the test is being signed. Although technological advances such as document cameras (e.g., ELMO cameras) would seem to make transparencies and overhead projectors obsolete, the transparencies and overhead projector have often proven to be the most reliable in high-stakes testing situations.

In addition to identifying adequate numbers of qualified faculty and staff members and providing time for preparation and training, an inordinate amount of time is required to develop a schedule for testing that takes into consideration matching the appropriate faculty and staff members to meet student needs and effectively administer the required testing accommodations. Scheduling for testing sessions often begins 3 to 4 weeks in advance of the official testing dates. Administering the test with accommodations in Grades 2 through 10 within the state-mandated testing window is a challenge that requires special permission from the Delaware Department of Education to modify the predetermined schedule for test administration.

The actual preparation and training for test administration is a complex issue that brings to “center stage” staff language competence (in both ASL and English). In many situations, faculty and staff members do not demonstrate the necessary competence in both languages to administer the test, which most certainly leads to a wide variation in the presentation of test items to students. For those faculty and staff members who do possess competence, there is the issue of translation skills. Fluency or competence in both languages does not automatically mean that an individual has the skill and ability to translate items from one language to another. Assuming a person has language competence and the necessary skills to translate questions, there still are situations in which an appropriate translation from English to ASL may provide an unfair advantage to the test taker by providing too much visual information. For example, when providing an accurate translation from English to ASL of a math item that asks a student to identify the parallel lines in a diagram, the sign for the word parallel would provide the student with the answer. The degree of complexity in the situation increases when students are given different forms of the test booklet; thus, the translation of the test items to a group of students at a particular grade level is compounded further, unless arrangements can be made to provide students with the same form of the test booklet.

Perhaps the most difficult accommodation to provide with consistency and accuracy is scribing. On-demand scribing presents some very unique and complex challenges, including those of translating from one language to another (in this case, from ASL to English); making decisions with respect to selection of vocabulary and sentence structure at appropriate age and grade levels; determining when and how to interrupt a student for clarification to request repetition of a phrase or a fingerspelled word; determining when to stop a student’s dictation to actually scribe the answer; and self-monitoring for facial expressions that may unintentionally provide feedback to the student. One solution would be to videotape the student’s signed responses and employ a team later on to complete the English transcription. But this approach, though it appears to be very fair and reasonable, would bring into question the feasibility of routinely devoting so many resources to this task.

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