Join Together: A Nationwide On-Line
Community of Practice and Professional Development School Dedicated to Instructional Effectiveness and Academic Excellence within
Deaf/Hard of Hearing Education
Objective 2.4 – Assessment
Topical Team Leaders – John Luckner, Ed.D. and Sandy Bowen, Ph.D.
Topic – Literacy – Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Students who are deaf or hard of hearing have the cognitive ability to be successful with literacy (Schirmer, 2000). The challenge for this population is the absence of or limited acquisition of a language as it relates to literacy. This is evidenced by research that has shown students who are deaf with deaf parents, having exposure to manual communication from birth, perform better in reading and writing than deaf children of hearing parents who may have limited exposure to either oral or manual communication (Padden, 1990) . Additional challenges arise when the reader has limited experiences to bring to a text (Goldin-Meadow & Mayberry, 2001). Research has shown that students who are deaf or hard of hearing have a general understanding of story form, need support on grammar and syntactic components of literacy, and can be successful regardless of communication mode (De Villiers & Pomerantz, 1992; Marschark, Mouradian, & Halas, 1994; McNeill, 1994). At an early age, infants and toddlers who are deaf or hard of hearing are already learning to read environmental print (Suzuki & Notoya, 1984). This learning must be enhanced through supported opportunities with contextualizing and decontextualizing of print using increased exposures and varied experiences (Ewoldt & Saulnier, 1994). How are teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing assessing the skills and knowledge of the students they serve?
Multiple studies exist analyzing the lack of literacy skills for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Researchers have attempted to understand this development for students who are deaf or hard of hearing by analyzing discrete aspects of the reading and writing processes. Components of phonological awareness, vocabulary development, background knowledge, maternal educational experience, communication modes, degree of hearing loss, and many more, have all been researched using a variety of experimental, quasi-experimental, and non-experimental research methods. Often, control groups composed of same-age hearing peers and same reading level hearing peers have been used to conduct these studies. General findings rdthindicate that students who are deaf or hard of hearing continue to read between the 3 and 4
grade levels upon graduation from high school (Bishop, 1983; Caldwell, 1973; Chaleff & Ritter, 2001; Dyer, MacSweeney, Szczerbinski, Green, & Campbell, 2003; Ewoldt & Saulnier, 1994; Gaustad, Kelly, Payne, & Lylak, 2002; Kampfe, 1989; Kluwin & Kelly, 1992; Lewis & Jackson, 2001; Livingston, 1989; Loeterman, Paul, & Donahue, 2002; McIntyre, Odom, & Byassee, 1970; Musselman & Szanto, 1998; Schirmer, 1993; Shuy, 1990; Walker, Munro, & Richards, 1998; Webster, Wood, & Griffiths, 1981; Wood, Griffiths, & Webster, 1981).
The purpose of this section is to focus attention on the testing and assessment of literacy for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It should be noted that no one test or assessment measure can accurately describe a student’s literary functioning. Rather, a variety of opportunities to triangulate data (i.e., students’ knowledge, skills and understanding) must be achieved. Additionally, interpretation of scores should be made with caution when considering students who are deaf or hard of hearing (Kamphaus, 1993). Understanding the background of the student (e.g., age of onset, degrees of loss, parental hearing status, language level of the student, educational background of the family, IQ, special needs, etc.), as well as the function and required skills students must bring to a test or assessment (Garrison, Dowaliby, & Long, 1992) are critical when interpreting the meaning of test results and how the information will be used for a particular student within various curricular areas. A final note is the reality that few
tests and assessments have been designed specifically for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. One rationale is due to the prohibitive costs of designing tests and assessments for such a unique and relatively small population of students (Blennerhassett, Strohmeier, & Hibbett, 1994).
As the result of an extensive review of the literature, five areas of testing and assessment will be discussed as they relate to students who are deaf or hard of hearing within the area of literacy. Types of tests and assessments discussed are, norm-referenced testing, criterion-referenced tests, curriculum-based assessment, performance-based assessment, and test taking strategies. The terms testing and assessing are used interchangeably within the literature. However, for the purposes of this document, the two will be differentiated as defined by Salvia and Ysseldyke (2004); “testing – exposing a person to a particular set of questions in order to obtain a score” (p. 693) and “assessment – the process of collecting data for the purpose of (a)
specifying and verifying problems and (b) making decisions about students” (p. 688).
Norm-referenced tests are, “tests that compare an individual’s performance to the performance of his or her peers” (Salvia & Ysseldyke, 2004, p. 691). The goal of this type of testing is to compare a person’s performance with other peers of similar characteristics. Most norm-
referenced tests currently available are normed on the majority population: hearing students without disabilities (Gallaudet Research Institute, 1998). This demographic is the main population served in the public schools and tests of this type are “based on people in general” (Salvia & Ysseldyke, 2004, p. 106). Examples of tests used within the public schools to assess literacy include the Weschsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-R), Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational, Woodcock Reading Mastery, Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), and Test of Written Language (TOWL-3) (Gallaudet Research Institute, 1998).
There are two norm-referenced tests generally used within the public schools that have established norms for students who are deaf or hard of hearing: The Stanford Achievement Test – Hearing Impaired (SAT-HI) and the Test of Early Reading Ability – Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Version (TERA-D/HH) (Bradley-Johnson & Evans, 1991; Kelly, 1995). The SAT-HI can be group or individually administered, while the TERA-D/HH is designed for individual administration.
The SAT-HI began collecting norms as far back as 1963 and these norms were reestablished in 1996 (Gallaudet Research Institute, 1998; Wolk & Allen, 1984; Wrightstone, Aranow, & Maskowitz, 1963). It’s goal is to measure curriculum commonly taught in the
United States within the areas of reading, writing, math, science, and social studies for grades 1 through 9 (Gallaudet Research Institute, 1998; Stanford Achievement Test, 1996). The norms
for students who are deaf or hard of hearing allow teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing, administrators who oversee programs for the target population, and researchers to compare students with a hearing loss to other students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The Test of Early Reading Ability – Deaf and Hard of Hearing Version (TERA-D/HH)
is adapted from the Test of Early Reading Ability (Reid, Hresko, & Hammill, 1989). The Deaf and Hard of Hearing version is designed for students ages 3 to 13.11 years with moderate to profound sensory hearing loss (41 to 91 decibels when aided). The purpose of the test is meaning construction, alphabet knowledge and function, and conventions of print. Norms, established in 1985, are reflective of the general population of students who are deaf or hard of
hearing across the United States (e.g., demographics, geographic areas, ages, hearing levels, educational placements, etc.) (Gallaudet Research Institute, 1998; Salvia & Ysseldyke, 2004).
The TOWL-3, a norm-referenced test that measures conceptual, linguistic and cognitive aspects of writing in both spontaneous and contrived formats, was standardized with students across the United States in general education classrooms. If classrooms had students with disabilities in the room, they were included within the sample. However, formalized norming with students having specific disabilities was not purposefully conducted and no specific norms for students who are deaf or hard of hearing are provided. In 1996, Yarger raised several concerns about using the Test of Written Language (TOWL-3) with students who have hearing loss. Specifically, concerns regarding students’ ability to extract information out of context,
thus limiting or eliminating the opportunity for incorporation of background knowledge; penalties for invented spellings; administration of the test using aural/oral methods rather than manual (i.e., sign language), raising concerns for the validity of individual findings; and finally, lack of generalization of environments during standardization (i.e., no testing in self-contained or residential settings); all bring into question the use of this test as a measure of performance in writing for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (Yarger, 1996). Yarger agrees that information learned from the TOWL-3 can be advantageous, but recommends this test be used as one component of a several tests and assessments eliciting students’ writing, and scores be interpreted cautiously.
Support for Yarger’s concerns were provided by Musselman and Szanto (1998). They assessed student writing using the Test of Written Language (TOWL-2) and determined the standardized scores did not give meaningful information. Rather, analysis of the specific sub-assessments within the TOWL-2 elicited valuable results related to students’ performance in
writing (Musselman & Szanto, 1998). French (1999) agrees with Yarger, and Musselman and Szanto, criticizing the use of norm-referenced tests in that they are “inadequate for carrying out the main purpose of assessment: to guide instruction” (French, 1999a, p. 17).
Other criticisms and concerns for using norm-referenced tests both normed and not normed on students who are deaf or hard of hearing are numerous. Knowing a norm-referenced test has not been established for the intended population raises issues with comparability and limits summative evaluation (French, 1999a). A survey of 267 instructional programs across the United States found standardized tests to be the least influential factor related to reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (LaSasso & Mobley, 1997). The goal of norm-referenced measures is group comparison. This becomes a challenge when groups are initially heterogeneous in language, exceptionality, and/or culture (Christensen, 2000; Luetke-Stahlman & Luckner, 1991). As a result, many students who are deaf or hard of hearing often perform at levels two to four years below their same-aged peers, even though they may be knowledgeable of the content (Musselman & Szanto, 1998). Reasons for poor performance may be due to students’ inadequate language background, lack of understanding of written English, length of the exam, inaccurate interpretation, and inappropriate comparisons from the administrator of the test, poor test-taking skills on the part of the student, group administration of the test, gap in curriculum exposure, ceiling effect, and poorly written tests (Gallaudet Research Institute, 1998; Sullivan & Montoya, 1997). One or several of these factors may result in incorrect information, inadequate placements, and erroneous label classifications for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (French, 1999a).
Criterion Referenced Tests
Another common type of assessment used within educational settings is criterion-referenced testing. Salvia and Ysseldyke (2004), discuss criterion-referenced testing as an evaluation of a “person’s mastery of particular information and skills in terms of absolute standards” (p. 31). Stated another way, criterion-referenced testing helps answer specific questions of interest, such as, “Does Billy Rose, who attends the fifth grade at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, use nouns, verbs, adjectives, and prepositions within his writing? If so, to what extent?”
For criterion-reference testing to be successful, teachers employing this type of measure must know what questions they have relative to their students. Additionally, teachers must understand that scores from these measures communicate information different from norm-referenced measures. Specifically, student performance is compared against the established criteria, rather than compared against other students. If the student’s score is equal to or better than the established criteria, that student is said to have mastered, or passed, that aspect of the criteria. Findings from criterion-referenced testing are often used to allow educators to make decisions regarding instruction and its effectiveness (Anderson-Inman, 1980; Hicks, 1980).
Types of criterion-based tests used with students who are deaf or hard of hearing are numerous and vary greatly depending upon the questions being asked, skills involved in the criteria, and whether a test is in existence. Most published criterion-referenced tests were not developed for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, teachers of the deaf or hard of hearing and general educators continue to administer these measures to students with a hearing loss. Most often, the rationale for this choice is the increased numbers of students served within general education settings. Caution should be used when interpreting results for criterion-referenced measures that have been adapted for use with students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Altering a measure in any way may invalidate the results. Examples of alterations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing may include administration using manual communication when this was not the intended administration design; rewording questions to aid the student’s understanding of what is being asked; or allowing extra time to complete the test, if
one of the criteria being measured is speed of test completion. While these adaptations are commonly used within general and special education classrooms working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing, interpretation of test results must be done carefully, explaining any alterations or deviations made before, during, or after testing. With this in mind, the following are criterion-referenced tests designed specifically for students who are deaf or hard of hearing in the areas of reading and writing.
There are no published criterion-referenced tests that have been designed specifically for students who are deaf or hard of hearing in the area of reading. There are, however, informal
criterion assessment measures that have been used and researched with this population. The cloze procedure (deletion of every fifth word within a passage) is one criterion-referenced measure that is often used in schools with students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Degree of hearing loss and age of onset are two factors that have been shown to effect test performance on cloze procedures for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (Reynolds, 1986). Care must be taken when using this type of measure with students who have hearing loss, as research and practice have both advocated and questioned its effectiveness and reliability for use as a reading
assessment and decision-making tool (Banks, Macaulay, & Gray, 1991; Bolte, 1989; Kelly & Ewoldt, 1984; LaSasso, 1980; McKnight, 1989; Reynolds, 1984; Treece, 1989).
Two criterion-referenced assessments that have been designed for use with this population include the Early Reading Checklist and the Reading Checklist (French, 1999b). Readers are assessed as they progress through four developmental levels (emerging, beginning, developing and maturing). Criteria are presented in a checklist format for ease of documentation and use. Analysis of the completed checklist allows general education and deaf education teachers the opportunity to see student strengths and needs at a glace, thus helping to guide instruction. Criterion assessed using the four developmental levels are: conventions of print, alphabet knowledge, visual or listening comprehension, sight word vocabulary, use of cue systems, story retelling, reading comprehension strategies and finally word analysis strategies (French, 1999b).
The Cleary Language Assessment measures written and signed communication was developed by The Cleary School for the Deaf in New York, as no criterion-referenced measure existed prior that addressed questions posed by the staff (e.g., language usage, grammar, mechanics of writing). The written portion of the Cleary Language Assessment measures six areas of writing using four levels: level one being the beginning stages of writing and level four being the overall goal. At the highest level of achievement (four) students’ writing should 1) develop the topic in an interesting and imaginative way; 2) produce a product that is organized in a logical manner; 3) support ideas using relevant information; 4) skillfully produce grammatically correct sentences; 5) use voice that is specific and vivid in language; and 6) have few to no mechanical errors (spelling, punctuation, capitalization) (Kelly et al., 1994).
Another tool for use in assessment of writing is the Writing Levels developed by the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (French, Hallau, & Ewoldt, 1985). Here meaning, linguistic features, conventions of writing, and story compile the categories assessed using the four level of development (emerging, beginning, developing and maturing). A total of eight levels are divided among the four developmental stages. Writing levels one-two constitute emerging literacy, levels three-five reflect a writer who is at the beginning level, levels six-seven constitute a developing writer and level eight indicates the writer is mature in her written literacy. Again, as in the Early Reading Checklist and the Reading Checklist, criteria indicating skills achieved for a particular level vary. Criteria for level one in the category of conventions of writing indicate students have some conventional letters. However, at level four, the writer has success with capitalization, attempts punctuation, and has words spaced appropriately. Thus, this criterion-referenced scale breaks down the development of writing into manageable and teachable stages.
As with any assessment, the Kendall Writing Levels should not be used as a “catch-all”
for assessing all writing of students who are deaf or hard of hearing due to its limitations. First, the rating scale does not “take into account what students may know but do not yet demonstrate,
their process skills, or other areas that influence writing development” (French et al., 1985, p. 65).
Examples of additional areas that influence writing not addressed by the scale are voice, aspects of narrative writing (e.g., beginning, problem, solution, ending, setting), expository writing (e.g., thesis statement, support topics, evidence), and development of paragraphs (Beaver, 1998).
Reading and Writing
Understanding the stages of literacy development for students who are deaf or hard of hearing aid in assessment practices. The Stages of Literacy Development Checklist (French, 1999b), a criterion-referenced scale, supports the teacher of students who are deaf or hard of hearing in understanding literacy development criteria using four developmental stages (emerging, beginning, developing and maturing). Categories assessed for literacy (reading and writing) are communicative competence, reading and writing motivation, strategies of text knowledge and reading comprehension, application of background knowledge, reading and writing as a social interaction, and concepts and forms of print. Specific criteria within each of the categories gradually evolve as the reader develops. Progressing through the stages of literacy development, motivation to read for an emergent reader appears different than compared with a beginner or developing reader. An emergent reader indicates he is motivated when picking up a book to look at. Progressively, the same reader at the beginning level reads for meaning and pleasure. Finally, motivation to read for the developing and maturing reader is indicated when he reads for information, views reading as a natural part of the day and uses reading to answer questions (French, 1999b).
Curriculum –Based Assessment
The goal of curriculum-based assessment (CBA) is to understand how the student functions relative to the curriculum taught. This type of assessment is varied and on-going (Schirmer, 2000). CBA is a “mirror image” of instructional objectives designed to assess student accomplishments as well as to monitor progress (Salvia & Ysseldyke, 2004). With the current educational and political emphasis on performance testing; several causal-comparative studies of the target population compared with students who are hearing (Dyer et al., 2003; Gaustad et al., 2002; Lewis & Jackson, 2001; Miller, 2002); and the increased practice of students who are deaf or hard of hearing in general education settings (Cambra, 2002; Luckner, 2002; Nowell & Innes, 1997; Schildroth & Hotto, 1994; Schirmer, 2002), many students who are deaf or hard of hearing are receiving instruction in the regular education curriculum. Using informal and authentic assessments such as analysis of student work relative to the curriculum, aids in gathering information of students’ functioning in literacy (French, 1999a; Schirmer,
Curriculum-based assessments are an equally valid assessment method compared with others, but is often not given the same importance. CBAs are developed either by individual teachers for use within their classroom, or by school districts and programs. Published curriculum guides may be designed for a specific population served within a district (e.g., center-based program for students who are deaf or hard of hearing) and often come with assessment measures and guidelines relative to the established curriculum. For listings of curriculums and curriculum-based assessments specifically designed for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, see the Kraus Curriculum Development Library (KCDL). Conducting a search on the World Wide Web will lead to many university libraries that allow access to this database on-line. Examples of states having recently published curriculums designed for students who are deaf or hard of hearing are The Idaho Special Education Manual, Hand in Hand with Special Education: A Guide for Parents (West Virginia), Regulations for the Education of Exceptional Students
(West Virginia) (KCDL, 2003).
Curriculum-based assessments also come with criticisms. One potential disadvantage is concerned with the “accuracy and completeness” of the information as being heavily dependent
upon the skills of the person administering the assessment (Schirmer, 2000). Second, the
assessments may not be “standard” across classrooms, programs or schools, thus limiting comparisons across curriculum and students. The information may not be helpful for new teachers receiving students who transfer from another location. Finally, CBA’s given to
students who are deaf or hard of hearing may not reflect the curriculum taught to students who are hearing, limiting generalization of known skill achievement within the regular education curriculum.
Another type of assessment that is closely tied to curriculum-based assessments, are performance-based measures or sometimes referred to as alternative assessments. Examples of alternative performance-based assessment methods related to literacy instruction include anecdotal records, work samples, interviews and surveys, checklists, retelling, miscue analysis, portfolios, hierarchical rating scales and performance-based rubrics (Easterbrooks & Huston, 2001; French, 1999a). These types of assessments have been shown to be important in working with students who are hearing as they are authentic to instruction and allow for increased choices to indicate understanding, skill and content knowledge. The same reasons for use with students who are deaf or hard of hearing apply.
Performance-based assessments support analysis of literacy within the context of thfunctional information (e.g., writing curriculum, 4 grade reading benchmarks, basal readers,
etc.) rather than by a decontextualized process (Shuy, 1990), and allow educators a broader definition of literacy (French, 1999a). This is especially critical considering studies have shown that students who are deaf or hard of hearing learn literacy different than compared to their hearing peers (Bishop, 1983; French, 1999a; Hayes & Arnold, 1992). Other examples of performance-based measures promoting a broader definition of reading and writing may be encouraging students to communicate their understanding of a narrative text through the use of drama, communicating expository information learned through semantic mapping, and demonstrating knowledge of story grammar through the use of drawings (Banks et al., 1991; Schirmer, 2000; Wurst, Velaski, Helmick, & Hanson, 2002).
As previously stated, alternative methods allow multiple approaches for providing a more comprehensive and accurate picture of student performance (French, 1999a). Studies assessing various literacies (e.g., math, science, environmental, reading, writing, etc.) with students who are deaf or hard of hearing have assessed this group using dialogue journals, charts, free writing, etc. These methods aided researchers in gaining a better understanding of student performance of content, syntactic analysis, understanding of narrative and expository texts, opportunity for modeling, as well as a chance to train educators about how to teach and assess writing as both a process and a product (Andrews & Gonzalez, 1992; Craig, 1993; French, 1999a; Kluwin & Kelly, 1991, 1992; Lang & Albertini, 2001; Lieberth, 1991; Livingston, 1989; Nielsen & Luetke-Stahlman, 2002; Shuy, 1990). Finally, performance-based assessments permit a descriptive analysis over a long period of time and allows for emergence of patterns (French, 1999a).
Sign Language Considerations and Literacy Assessment
Additionally important when working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing in literacy is the consideration of students who use manual communication. Easterbrooks & Huston (2001), developed a screening tool that aids teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing in understanding the importance and support the use of manual communication within literacy. The screening tool, Reading Fluency Screening for Signing Students, aids teachers of
students who are deaf or hard of hearing in measuring how students are reading; assessing visual components of reading that are specific to texts; and evaluating students’ use of semantic, morphologic, and cheremic (phonics of signs) skills indicative to the text. Examples of sign language skills analyzed and important in communicating text understanding include fingerspelling, signing speed signing space, use of eye contact and eye gaze, facial expressions, and body movement. Each component listed aids in communicating what the reader understands regarding the text (e.g., dialogue, setting, characters, problem, etc.).
Teaching Test Taking Strategies
With this knowledge that students who are deaf or hard of hearing continue to struggle with literacy development, along with the continued documentation of low reading scores, what options do professionals and parents have related to testing for students with hearing loss? Research has found several strategies that seem to be effective for this group through assessing what students already do. Cognitive style and reading comprehension are connected when testing students with hearing loss in the area of literacy. The skills of remembering information read by independently identifying important parts of the text, using response formats requiring a selection of an answer (rather than answer production), and skills in assessing more inferential information (as apposed to literal) were found to be indicative of successful adolescent readers with hearing loss (Davey & LaSasso, 1985; LaSasso, 1999). Also important are skills of independence and analysis. The better the reader is at the previous skills described, the better the student processes information in various test response formats such as multiple-choice, free-response (e.g., essay), and lookback conditions (e.g., referring back to the story when answering questions) (Davey, 1987; Davey & LaSasso, 1985; Davey, LaSasso, & Macready, 1983; LaSasso, 1999; LaSasso & Davey, 1983). These skills must be taught using multiple and guided opportunities.
In order to aid students with hearing loss in testing situations, it is important to know what students of this population tend to do while being tested. Studies have found students who are deaf or hard of hearing guess more often on tests, attempt to visually match items, eliminate unlikely information, associate words and ideas, and select items based on their position among choices on multiple-choice formats (Webster et al., 1981; Wolk & Schildroth, 1984; Wood et al., 1981). Knowing these and other behaviors students do during testing situations aid teachers in supporting students to continue, alter, or eliminate specific test-taking behaviors.
Suggestions for how and what to teach students with hearing loss related to test-taking strategies are as follows: read all directions and read all of the question, choose recognizable words, sit in comfortable positions during testing, stay focused, eliminate choices known to be wrong, lookback at passages to verify accuracy, use the text to aid in answering questions, and be aware of distracters embedded with test questions (Chaleff & Toranzo, 2000; LaSasso, 1999). Additional recommendations include: test the student in his/her preferred mode of communication, display directions on an overhead or note card in sequential order, role play or demonstrate instructions, rephrase and/or outline directions, write out important points or instructions, and have students repeat directions (Luckner et al., n.d.).
The educational interpreter may also need instruction prior to testing on what types of support he/she may employ with the student during testing. The interpreter must have ample opportunity to review testing procedures and aspects of the exam, understand he/she may not aid
the student in answering questions, and may interpret directions for the student before and during testing (Luckner et al., n.d.).
As one can see, there are numerous issues related to assessment of literacy for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Leaders in the field must educate legislators, program directors, school administrators, families, and students as to the best practices of assessment for students with hearing loss. Using a variety of assessments to acquire reliable and valid information about students’ strengths and areas in need of instruction is the first step to successfully understanding student performance. Collaborative efforts by agency providers, researchers, practitioners, and families are important and these important players need to work together to address the burning question, how we can help students who are deaf or hard of hearing improve the acquisition of essential literacy skills.
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