Test of American Sign Language

The Test of ASL (TASL) has been developed within the framework of a larger research project between San Francisco State University and the University of California, Santa Cruz investigating the relationship between ASL and English literacy skill (Strong & Prinz, 1997, 2000; Prinz et al., 1994).

Similar to the ASLAI, the TASL provides an in-depth investigation of specific linguistic structures and, thus, does not provide a screen for deaf children. So far, the TASL has been used with 155 deaf students, aged 8 to 15.

The Test of ASL consists of two production and four comprehension measures.

TASL production measures

(1) Classifier Production Test: A five minute cartoon movie was shown to the students. The cartoon was then presented again in ten segments. The students need to sign each segment in ASL and were videotaped. Later, they were scored for the presence of different size, shape, and movement markers in the classifiers. 

(2) Sign Narrative: Pictures from a children’s book without text were given to the students. They need to be able to sign the story in ASL. The students were videotaped and later scored using a checklist for the presence of ASL grammar and narrative structures.

TASL comprehension measures

(1) Story Comprehension: An ASL narrative presented by a native signer was shown on video. While watching the video, the students were asked questions about the content and were videotaped.

(2) Classifier Comprehension Test: Pictures with objects of a variety of features were shown to the students. They saw a deaf person describing each object in five different ways. On an answer sheet with video freeze frames of each description, the students needed to mark one that provided the best description.

(3) Time Marker Test: on video six representations of specific time or period of time were shown. On a calendar-like answer sheet, the students needed to find corresponding dates.

(4) Map Marker Test:
On video a description was given for ways objects are located in given environments, e.g. vehicles at a crossroads or furniture in a bedroom. For each description, the students had to select the correct representation from a selection of photographs in an answer booklet.

Test development 

In the first stage of this project, the TASL has been developed, refinement of data collection procedures have been made, sampling procedures have been planned, and a small sample has been tested. The results of the pilot revealed that the instrument measurements are both reliable and valid.

In the second stage, two measurements were conducted on the deaf students: the TASL and an English literacy test. The subjects of the study were 155 deaf students from the same educational site, divided into two age groups (1) 8 to 11 years old and (2) 12 to 15 years old.

A draft of the test was sent to five nationally-known deaf linguists who were hired as consultants to review the test and give suggestions of how to improve it. The final version incorporates their feedback.

Students were tested during the school day in two sessions, each one hour long. One hour was assigned for the TASL and one hour for the English literacy test. The TASL was conducted by a deaf researcher fluent in ASL, and no hearing person was present. The test instructions were in ASL on video. The signed responses were videotaped and later scored by a deaf researcher.

Inter-rater reliability was established for each TASL subtest by having raters score ten protocols, review them, resolve disagreement, and then score a second set of protocols. The agreement was better than 96%.

Three levels of ASL proficiency were created by dividing the range of TASL scores into thirds: low, medium, and high levels of ASL ability.

Psychometric analyses of the TASL is currently underway. The test has been translated into Catalan Sign Language at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain and into French Sign Language in cooperation of the Bilingual School for the Deaf in Geneva and the University of Geneva, Department for Psycholinguistic, Switzerland. Psychometric analysis for these tests are currently underway. There are also plans to translate the TASL into Swedish Sign Language (P. Prinz, personal communication, October 21, 2000).

TASL takes approximately one hour to administer and 15-30 minutes to score. There are plans to standardize the test (establish norms) so it can be used as a diagnostic measure (P. Prinz, personal communication, December 12, 2000).

The TASL is not available. So far it only has been used in the research context and not as an assessment for deaf students.

Among the strengths of the TASL are that (1) it has beenreviewed by deaf experts, (2) it has been developed for research purpose, and (3) has future plans to be used as an assessment for deaf children.

Among the weaknesses of the TASL are that (1) it does not report on the psychometric testing in the published literature (only inter-rater reliability), (2) it can not to be used as a baseline assessment in an educational setting, and (3) it focuses only on the older age ranges.

Web-based version of the TASL

The current version of the TASL has been expanded and redeveloped to a web-based testing instrument. The goal was to have a tool for more diagnostic purpose to help explaining differences in deaf children's sign language proficiency. In addition, the revised TASL is meant as a device for educators to help developing strategies for teaching the deaf. The structure of the original version was changed to be more suitable for these purposes. In addition, the new version of TASL will be web-based which significantly facilitates the process of administering and scoring the test. The revised version focuses on both comprehension and production. The format of the test items makes it possible to assess participants' ASL skills without relying on video recordings of test takers' language samples. Pilot testing is currently underway (W. Mann, personal communication).


From: Tobias Haug: “Review of Sign Language Assessment Instruments”, an earlier version of that paper 2005.

For more information regarding this test, please contact  Philip Prinz at San Francisco State University.