To say the least, the assessment of ASL and of deaf individuals’ cognitive abilities that use ASL as the language of presentation represent enormous challenges for clinicians, teachers, parents, and others wishing to measure important ability areas of individuals who are deaf. Quite clearly, the enormity of these challenges is matched by the tremendous importance of developing these measures as a means for understanding the language and cognitive abilities of deaf individuals of all ages as vital input into a wide array of decisions regarding educational or vocational placements and clinical services. In addition, valid measures of linguistic and cognitive skills are vitally important for researchers who examine the unique cognitive abilities of a population of individuals who rely on visual language and visual input for their perception and understanding of the world. A particularly important area involves the assessment of ASL acquisition among young children. Given the importance of early language acquisition for subsequent language and academic growth, the ability to measure early signing skill is vital.
For the past five years, the National Science Foundation–funded Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning at Gallaudet University has been deeply involved in developing tools and analyzing assessment data to address these challenges. Two large-scale studies have been conducted. The VL2 Toolkit Psychometric Study [End Page 5] administered more than thirty language and cognitive measures to a sample of college students for the purpose of studying the psychometric properties of these tests when administered to individuals who are deaf. These assessments included many that were adaptations of tests developed for hearing students or were newly developed for deaf test takers. This study resulted in the publication of a volume, edited by Donna Morere and Thomas Allen, Assessing Literacy in Deaf Individuals: Neurocognitive Measurement and Predictors (Springer, 2012).
The second study is the VL2 Early Education Longitudinal Study (EELS), a three-year longitudinal study of the emergence of language and literacy skills among a national sample of deaf children who were ages 3, 4, and 5 in the first year of the study. This study included the administration of a battery of assessments that included a measure of ASL skills.
The current volume brings together a group of articles that present an in-depth discussion of assessment and methodological challenges encountered by developers of tests using ASL (Morere); describe specific neurocognitive instruments that have been developed in ASL that address the unique requirements posed by their presentation in a visual language modality (Morere; Witkin, Morere, and Geer); report on the psychometric properties of newly developed measures of ASL skill designed for young children (Allen and Enns); describe a new measure of ASL phonological knowledge and explore its relationship to reading skills (McQuarrie and Abbott); and present normative data on ASL milestones that will be useful for parents and early childhood educators in determining whether young children (birth to 5) are developing ASL skills in a manner comparable to national norms (Simms, Baker, and Clark). These six articles represent the state of the art in ASL assessment and will contribute hugely to the field.
Much of the research reported in this special issue was supported by the National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center Program, under cooperative agreements SBE-0541953 and SBE-1041725, awarded to Gallaudet University and the Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning. Along with the authors of all of the articles in this volume, I am deeply grateful to NSF for its support of this important work. I also wish to thank the many researchers, [End Page 6] educators, graduate assistants and postdocs, parents, administrators of early education programs, and all of the preschoolers participating in the EELS project for their contributions to the success of this research. I’d also like to thank Sign Language Studies and Dr. Ceil Lucas for inviting me to assemble and edit these articles into a cohesive whole. [End Page 7]
Thomas E. Allen is Co-Principal Investigator, Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning.