American Sign Language Receptive Skills Test

The American Sign Language (ASL) Receptive Skills Test (Enns et al., 2013) is an adaptation of the  British Sign Language (BSL) Receptive Skills Test (Herman, Holmes, & Woll, 1999). The purpose of the ASL Receptive Skills Test is measure children’s receptive ASL skills, or more specifically, their understanding of ASL grammar in phrases and sentences. It is appropriate to use with children between the ages of 3 and 13 years who are learning ASL. It may also be used with older children whose ASL skills are considered to be delayed; however, the standard scores should be interpreted with caution in these cases.

 

The first step of adapting the BSL test to ASL was to determine whether any items needed to be changed and new items added, and also to create new test materials, i.e. a picture response book and a video in ASL. This was done in close collaboration with a panel of experts consisting of signed language specialists and native ASL users.

 

Pilot study

Once the test was adapted to ASL, two rounds of pilot testing were conducted. The first round included 47 deaf children aged between 4 and 13 years, and the second round included 34 deaf children of a similar age range. All deaf children had deaf parents and used ASL since birth. Children were tested from four different school sites. The results of the first round of pilot testing indicated that, although the adapted items discriminated across age, the test was “too easy” for children above 10 years old. Similar results were found in a study adapting the BSL test to  German Sign Language (Haug, 2011). In the second round of pilot testing, additional items were added that measured more complex grammatical structures, including role shift and conditional clauses. The results of the second round of pilot testing showed a significant correlation between age and raw score with all children, including those above 9 years of age (Enns & Herman, 2011).

 
 

The completion of the pilot studies resulted in the finalized version of the ASL Receptive Skills Test, which includes a vocabulary check of 20 signs, 3 practice items, and a total of 42 test items. The format of the finalized test incorporates the response pictures into the test DVD, so that test takers view both the signed sentences and response pictures on the computer screen (rather than having to shift eye gaze from computer to picture book).

 

The Vocabulary Check ensures that the child knows the vocabulary used in the Receptive Skills Test. It is important to establish this so that when a child responds incorrectly to a test item it can reasonably be attributed to problems understanding the grammar structure not the signs (vocabulary). The vocabulary used in the test has been carefully chosen to be familiar to young children and to be ASL signs that have limited regional variations across North America.

 

The Receptive Skills Test (see Video 1 below) uses a video presentation format. The child watches a video of a deaf adult who introduces the test and then presents the test sentences. The test consists of three practice sentences and 42 test sentences that assess children’s understanding of ASL grammar [1) number/distribution; 2) negation; 3) noun/verb distinction; 4) spatial verbs (location/action); 5) size and shape specifiers; 6) handling classifiers; 7) role shift; 8) conditionals]. After the video presentation of the ASL sentence the child responds by pointing to the most appropriate picture from a choice of four that appears on the screen. The child’s score on the test is converted to a standard score using the standardization table.

 

Standardization study

The ASL Receptive Skills Test was standardized on 203 children throughout Canada and the United States (Allen & Enns, 2013; Table 1). All 203 children were deaf and had a non-verbal IQ of 70 or above (or where formal testing was not available, were determined to be functioning within the average range intellectually by school personnel). There were 77 native signers and 126 non-native signers (acquired <3 years old), 106 females and 97 males, and the ages ranged from 3 to 13 years. Testing took place in the children’s schools and was administered by deaf and hearing researchers with fluent ASL skills. 

 

Table 1: Standardization participants (N=203)

Age

Combined

Native

Non-Native

Males

Females

3

16

9

7

5

11

4

34

14

20

17

17

5

58

17

41

25

32

6

6

3

3

5

1

7

12

7

5

2

10

8

12

5

7

6

6

9

16

5

11

8

8

10

17

6

11

8

9

11

12

3

9

6

6

12

10

2

8

6

4

13

10

6

4

8

2

Total

203

77

126

97

106

 

We recognize that our sample of 203 children is limited in how accurately it represents the overall population of deaf children, and for this reason future research will involve additional testing and data collection to expand our sample. However, several statistical analyses of the standardization data did reveal that the test was reliable (showed internal consistency) and was a valid measure of developmental changes in ASL skills.

 

Video 1 presents several test items from the ASL Receptive Skills Test.

 

Video 1: Example of the American Sign Language Receptive Skills Test (© Northern Signs Research, 2010)  

 

The strengths of the ASL Receptive Skills Test are similar to those of the BSL Receptive Skills Test, and include: (1) test items and test construction are based on empirical data, (2) there are standardized procedure and methods for conducting the assessment, (3) results apply to a broad age range of children, 3-13 years old, (4) test can be purchased, and (5) test can be used in schools.

The key weakness of the ASL Receptive Skills Test is that it assesses only certain linguistic structures on morphological and syntactic levels of ASL, not communicative competence. The ASL Receptive Skills Test should be used as part of a larger battery of assessment procedures to determine a child’s overall functioning in ASL.

 

The ASL Receptive Skills Test can be purchased through  Northern Signs Research.

AUTHOR

Summarized by Charlotte Enns (in cooperation with Tobias Haug; 2014).

For further information regarding this test, please contact  Charlotte Enns at the University of Manitoba, Canada.