University of Edinburgh

Assessment Issues in Relation to Deaf Pupils

Presented in January 2000

Towards developing fair assessment procedures for deaf pupils

by Miranda Pickersgill, Head of Hearing Impaired Services, Leeds (Director Designate from Jan 2000 CACDP)


The group of pupils for whom I have been involved in developing fair assessment procedures are those who use British Sign Language. Not just that, but they are being aducated in sign bilingual settings where BSL is recognised as a language of teaching, learning and assessment, where the children arehave access to BSL from Deaf adults and where all staff are expected to be bilingual.The issue we have faced for these children is how can they be enabled to show evidence of learning - in a curriculum and language sense, in a way which truly reflects the way in which they have learned.

a) language issues:

  • for many children BSL is the language through which they have acquired knowledge and skills; where appropriate they should be allowed to demonstrate evidence of this through BSL.
  • Where English is the language of evidence, consideration should be given to the relationship between this and the child's BSL, eg; in assessing writing, give credit for positive effect of BSL on writing.
  • Signs across the curriculum: issues of standardisation, production of glossaries, CD-ROM, etc. Concerns re how this is done, who decides. Deaf people not 'hung up' about this.
  • Importance of BSL skills and knowledge of the person presenting or delivering the assessment. Also that have had training in, eg; SATs.
  • Assessments of BSL need to be specific for that language.
  • Assessments of English need to reflect whether this is the child's first or second language.

b) Modification issues:

  • some tasks can be assessed in more appropriate way, not made simpler but made clearer. Deaf colleagues invaluable in this; watching how they structure tasks to make as accessible as possible.
  • Alternative presentations, layout, etc.
  • Alternative ways in which children can show evidence other than, eg; in writing.
  • Reference on children's statements to modification of assessments in recognition of language and learning needs.
  • Special arrangements now well-established for all end of key stage assessments.

The fact that special arrengements exist, however imperfect these may be, reflects the work that colleagues have put into this area. Not done by QCA or the Examining Bodies but by practitioners. Recommendations put to QCA on
the basis of evidence.

There have been 3 strands to this work which has developed since the early 90s with the introduction of a national curriculum and assessment framework.

1. The development of appropriate assessments of BSL.
2. The development of appropriate assessments of English in second language learners
3. The development of appropriate curriculum assessments at the end of each Key Stage.

All of these are underpinned by developments in teaching and the curriculum. Assessment cannot be looked at in isolation from these. It was clear from when sign bilingualism was first introduced, there was a need for a different model of and an overhaul of of the existing assessment procedures for language and the curriculum. The context of this development work has been the networking of sign bilingual schools and services which have worked together since 1992 on assessment issues. We have developed guidelines for the presentation of SATs at KS 1 and 2, guidelines for the implementation of the Literacy Hour, guidelines for the teaching of English as a Foreign Language at primary and secondary level.


I will deal briefly with the first 2 of the strands - assessments of language. Assessments of BSL have been developed in conjunction with Deaf colleagues. They are based on BSL as a language and are not translations of English
assessments. These were initially based on the speaking and listening attainment target for English - a BSL AT. This was designed to be used on an ongoing basis by Deaf Educational Instructors as part of their everyday work with children. It was also used to inform others and to justify the use of BSL in curriculum assessment by showing the child's language preference. This now takes the form of level descriptors and performance criteria from 1 to 4 of the
NC. Whilst the desciptors are largely of children's language use, we have also added extra profiles and systems for recording the development of features of BSL. More recently, we have developed baseline versions of the level
descriptors and criteria which cover the pre-school years and are related to the Early Learning Goals.

We have been collecting information about children's BSL levels for some time and have recently incorporated this into the collection of annual performance data and target-setting.

In addition to the formative assessments of BSL, we have been able to use a test developed by City University for which one of our staff was a researcher. This test is now available provided staff receive training in how to use it.

Regarding assessments of English, these are related to the development of an English curriculum modelled on that for Modern Foreign Languages. The children's English is assessed as a second language. We have prioritised assessments of literacy. In recent years we have moved away from this somewhat and have focussed on the level descriptors for reading and writing and what evidence one is looking for in deaf children's writing. We have compiled a reference booklet (exemplification of standards) with samples of children's reading and writing which have been internally moderated and levelled or graded. We have used the SATS materials for these.


a. KS1 and 2

Moving on to the 3rd strand, curriculum assessment. For the past 7 years, the information produced by QCA have made reference to the assessment of children who use BSL. This has happened without BSL being an official language of education. For example


Each year, staff from the sign bilingual schools and services have met in about February to go through that year's KS1 and 2 assessments and then in July to feedback their findings. We have tried to set up a parallel KS3 group but with little joy. We have been represented on QCAs group which plans these assessments so we have had an input at all staged. Each year we publish guidelines like this yellow booklet and have sent copies to QCA. That is not to say that our views are always taken into account!

It is as a result of this work that children in Engand and Wales are able to be assessed in BSL across the 3 subjects - English, Maths and Science at the end of KS1 and 2. Hearing bilingual children can use mother tongue for Maths and Science but not for English.

Whilst we have reservations about the national assessments - SATs, the work has been very productive and has influenced our teaching. We have looked at Reading, Writing, Spelling and the Maths test. One problem with the tests is that the materials are not available in sufficient time to be able to prepare presentations. We have asked for early opening but this is still inadequate. For the tasks, we do know what these will be in advance. Deaf colleagues discuss how they will present the tasks and what evidence they will expect from the children. We have agreed certain presentations of common Maths problems, trying to anticipate what the tests will contain.

An example of a page from the guidance notes are as follows .....

writing sample assessed
reading sample assessed

Issues raised:

1. Moderation
- concern re current moderators, lack of awareness
- no national moderation or guarantee of consistency: our group have internally moderated each others' samples

2. Training
- rely on local authorities; not all DI have access
- importance of project group
- no support for this work; self-financed

3. Adaptations
- video filming requested but difficuly to arrange
- some use of sign graphics

4. Time
- Lack of time to prepare
- Concern re not allowed to open papers early

5. Staffing implications


Similar exercise carried out with baseline assessment; compared notes on schemes related to Early Learning Goals and pilotted PIPs.

Key Stage 3

Quote from assessment and reporting arrangements 1999.
Mental arithmetic; oralist and signers scripts.
Special arrnagements: general guidance for signers.


Booklets about special arrangements.
- individual candidate
- no unfair advantage
- not mislead users of certificate
- not reduce reliability or validity
- usual method of working
- overall responsibility with examining body
a. Time allowance
b. Means of access to questions
c. Means of presenting responses
d. Alternative accommodation arrangementsP28 hearing impaired candidates. (DAHISS ohp)