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IES Grant

Title: Assessing ASL Knowledge and its Relationship to Reading English in Deaf Children
Center: NCSER Year: 2010
Principal Investigator: Hoffmeister, Robert Awardee: Boston University
Program: Reading, Writing, and Language      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,566,200
Type: Measurement Award Number: R324A100176

Purpose: Although there are many assessments for evaluating the language skills of hearing children, no comparable assessments of American Sign Language for educational use are currently available for deaf children, whose language input is often impoverished and inconsistent. The purpose of this project is to develop a test of sign language, the American Sign Language Assessment Instrument (ASLAI) modeled on tests for spoken language development and tests of reading achievement. The ASLAI is intended to measure conversational abilities, academic language knowledge, and metalinguistic skills. Deaf educators will be able to use the test to determine which students are proceeding along a normal developmental path in their acquisition of language knowledge as well as those who are above or below the expected level of ability. Educators may also be able to identify those Deaf students who may have a language problem affecting their ability to learn to read.

Project Activities: The assessment builds on previous work performed by the researcher in developing assessments for sign language. New assessments to measure vocabulary knowledge, language comprehension, language generalization processes, and sign imitation abilities will be developed and refined through field testing with deaf adults and deaf students of deaf parents. The assessments will be pilot tested with students ages 4–17 attending schools for the deaf in six states. Results will be used to study the potential of the assessment to identify developmental changes in American Sign Language abilities as well as other language and academic skills.

Products: The product of this project will be a fully developed and validated assessment of American Sign Language and technical reports.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Schools and/or programs for deaf children in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota, Florida and Washington State. Schools include both residential and non-residential facilities.

Population: Approximately 350 deaf children ranging in age from 4 to 17 years old. About one third of the students will be children of deaf parents (considered to be 'native' signers) versus children who have at least one parent who is not deaf.

Intervention: The American Sign Language Assessment Instrument (ASLAI) consists of a battery of assessments that measure knowledge of synonyms, antonyms, plurals complex sentences, rare vocabulary and narrative comprehension in sign language. Three tests are used to measure morphological knowledge of signed language, which includes such aspects as knowledge of classifier hand shapes and spatial arrangements. Narrative comprehension tests are included because of the theoretical importance of measuring narrative skills as these have been proposed to be important for literacy in deaf children.

Research Design and Methods: Assessments will be developed through expert input and field testing with fluent and native adult ASL signers, deaf children of deaf parents and deaf children of hearing parents. Items will be selected of varying difficulty to allow for discrimination of signers at varying levels of age and ability. Rasch models will be used to scale and score performance, and reliability will be examined through internal consistency measures. Prior research indicates that American Sign Language knowledge is predictive of literacy skills and reading skills in English. Validity of the assessment will be investigated through correlation with tests of reading comprehension and vocabulary.

Control Condition: Although there is no control condition, deaf children exposed to American Sign Language from birth via their deaf parents will be compared to deaf children of hearing parents who are exposed to ASL at a later age or who have minimal exposure at home and/or school.

Key Measures: American Sign Language Assessment Instrument test scores, Rhode Island Test of Language Structure (adapted), California Achievement Test (reading comprehension and vocabulary subtest), Stanford Achievement Test (reading comprehension and vocabulary subtest), and a sentence elicitation task (researcher developed).

Data Analytic Strategy: Item response theory (Rasch model) will be used to scale items and create assessment scores. Classical test theory will be used for item analysis to inform item selection and refinement. Cronbach's alpha and factor analysis will be used to assess internal reliability. Correlation with reading measures will be used to investigate construct validity.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Hoffmeister, R.J., and Caldwell-Harris, C.L. (2014). Acquiring English as a Second Language via Print: The Task for Deaf Children. Cognition, 132(2): 229–42. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2014.03.014

Novogrodsky, R., Caldwell Harris, C., Fish, S., and Hoffmeister, R. (in press). The Development of Antonyms Knowledge in American Sign Language (ASL) and its Relationship to Reading Comprehension in English Language Learning. Language Learning.

Novogrodsky, R., Fish, S., and Hoffmeister, R. (2014). The Acquisition of Synonyms in American Sign Language (ASL): Toward a Further Understanding of the Components of ASL Vocabulary Knowledge. Sign Language Studies, 14(2): 225–249. doi:10.1353/sls.2014.0003


Conlin-Luippold, F., and Hoffmeister, R. (2013). Learning to Count Spatially: The Acquisition of Plurality in Verbs of Location. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press. Full text