Assessment Considerations and Practices for DHH Children

The Issue

Assessment is a very broad topic that covers everything from teacher-developed, in-class activities, to large-scale standardized tests.  Most people think of assessments as “tests” or “exams,” but they go far beyond that to include any activity or piece of work a student produces.  Educators need a variety of assessment data to inform instruction, intervention, document overall student progress and achievement, and when necessary, monitor progress toward Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals. Parents also need this information to help them better understand their deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH) child’s strengths and challenges as well as advocate for the best educational placement(s) for their child.  Furthermore, these data are used by the whole IEP team to justify and/or modify the provision of educational support services.  Assessment practices for DHH children are complicated for a number of reasons.  Stakeholders should consider these complexities when deciding which assessments and how many should be used to get a clear, accurate picture of students’ skills.

What We Know and What We Don’t Know

The simplest definition of assessment is the gathering of information to make decisions about a student’s learning.  From this perspective everything that a child does in school may be assessed in some way.  Classroom-based assessments include a variety of informal to formal and formative to summative activities.  Below are a few examples of assessment activities in each of these four categories:

Informal Formal
Formative Group discussion Demonstrating the steps to use a microscope
Summative “ticket to leave” Unit exam

Specific assessment activities may be on a continuum within these categories.  The differences between each assessment is related to the purpose of and the data gained from each activity.  Informal assessments help teachers gauge where students are in their progress towards mastery of a topic. Formal assessments are used to evaluate student outcomes and achievement of that topic.  Teachers should use a variety of activities in each category to better understand students’ progress and ultimately, their mastery.  Some assessments are easier to construct than others, but teachers usually have flexibility in the kind of activities they do and can modify them to meet each DHH child’s language and learning needs.  Standardized assessments, however, are always formal, summative activities.  While professionals have little or no control in how they are constructed or administered, teachers and support service professionals must help their students prepare for taking these tests.

Many standardized assessments have been developed and normed with samples of hearing children whose primary language is English.  Often these tests rely heavily on students’ ability to read and write and/or listen and speak English.  In these situations, accommodations for standardized tests may include providing alternative modalities for test administration and responses.  Another complicating factor in standardized testing is the type(s) of skills the test is designed to assess.  The Common Core State Standards English Language Arts test, for example, includes reading comprehension and reasoning skills within the same question.  Given the range of communication needs and preferences of DHH children as well as possible cognitive differences among DHH children with additional disabilities, it is unclear the extent to which these assessments provide valid and reliable data. Language accommodations alone may not optimize students’ academic performance on these tests.  Today more tests are being developed, normed, and/or adapted for use with DHH learners.


It is important for professionals to consider what type of assessments provide the most useful data on their DHH learners’ strengths and needs.  Classroom-based assessments can help teachers modify their instruction and help them better prepare their students to meet the demands of high-stakes, standardized tests.   Teachers, support professionals, and students should work together practicing a variety of assessments and using testing accommodations in the classroom.  This will help students become familiar with the expectations of the test as well as identify the optimal set of testing modifications and accommodations that will help minimize barriers to students’ academic performance.   More research, however, is needed on the development and administration of standardized tests with DHH learners to improve their validity and reliability and their impact on understanding DHH student achievement.

Posted on June 25, 2020 by
Thomastine Sarchet
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology

Further reading

Maller, S. J. (2011).  Intellectual assessment of deaf people: A critical review of core concepts and issues. In M. Marschark & P. E. Spencer (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language and Education (pp. 473-485). Oxford University Press.