Assessment Tools: American Sign Language Phonological Awareness Test (ASL-PAT) 

Although there are many assessments for evaluating the spoken language skills of hearing children, there are few comparable assessments of American Sign Language for educational use. To better support deaf children’s language and literacy development, these kinds of assessments are urgently needed. We are developing a computerized ASL phonological awareness test for use with children ages 4 to 10. This will, for the first time, allow us to undertake detailed and accurate diagnosis of a young child's knowledge and awareness of the phonological building blocks of ASL. Upon completion of the test development project and associated validation studies, the ASL-PAT will be available for teachers and clinicians who work with bilingual deaf students.

Formal methods of signed language assessment are fundamental to the provision of an equitable education for bilingual Deaf children (Enns & Herman, 2011). Not only does valid assessment form a crucial aspect in effective language teaching and planning; the ability to successfully monitor students’ language and academic progress can play a powerful role in the legitimization and public acceptance of bilingual programs. However, there are very few assessment measures that are appropriate for measuring language skills in young Deaf students. 

McQuarrie (2005) has developed two experimental measures - one measuring spoken language phonological awareness and the other, sign language phonological awareness. The measures have been found to be effective with Deaf children and adults as outlined in previous work by McQuarrie and colleagues (McQuarrie, 2005; McQuarrie & Parrila, 2009; McQuarrie & Abbott, 2013). In the first phase of this project we are developing a downward extension of the ASL phonological awareness measure for use with younger children (age 4 -7 range).

Phase 1: ASL Phonological Awareness Test (ASL-PAT) Development

The ASL Phonological Awareness Test is a computer-delivered test designed to measure a young deaf child's awareness of the phonological building blocks of ASL (handshape, movement and location). It is designed for use with children ages 4 to 8. The ASL- PAT includes a picture dictionary vocabulary check, practice trials, and 49 test items measuring the ability to identify phonological similarity relations in signs under three comparison conditions [i.e., signs with three, two or one shared parameter). The test is in the developmental phase and we are currently conducting a small scale pilot study to evaluate item effectiveness. A larger scale field test will follow.

Research Team
: Dr. Lynn McQuarrie (PI), Dr. Marilyn Abbott (Co- investigator), Suzanne Spady, M.S., CCC-SLP; and the ASL-PAT web interface ‘dream team’ Thomas Baron, B. Sc. (Computing Science); Eric Lam, B.Sc. (Computing Science).

Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Phase 1), National Science Foundation, Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (Phase 2).

Selected Publications and Presentations
McQuarrie, L. Abbott, M., & Enns, C. (2013, July). New Directions: ASL Assessment Tools & ASL Assessment Portal. Poster presented at the Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research (TISLR) Conference 11, London, England.

McQuarrie, L., & Abbott, M. (2013, February). American Sign Language Phonological Awareness Test. Paper presentation presented at the 39th Annual Conference of the Association of College Educators - Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ACE-D/HH). Santa Fe, New Mexico.

McQuarrie, L., Abbott, M., & Spady, S., (2012). American Sign Language Phonological Awareness: Test Development and Design. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Education, (pp. 142-158), Honolulu, Hawaii.

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