Assessing British sign language development
Sign bilingualism is one of several approaches to the education of deaf children in the UK Sign bilingualism seeks to introduce British Sign Language (BSL) to deaf children from an early age in order to establish a first language from which English, the majority language, can be acquired. However, there is little concensus on how deaf children's BSL development should be measured and no practical tools available to assist practitioners in this task. BSL assessments are needed to make baseline assessments, facilitate identification of language difficulties, indicate targets for remediation and evaluate the outcome of educational and therapy programmes for deaf children. This study describes the development of an assessment of British Sign Language development. Issues relating to the type of test required and which aspects of BSL to include are raised. Selection of subjects upon whom to base test development and standardisation are discussed. The BSL test of receptive grammar was initially piloted on 40 children from native signing backgrounds. Revisions were made to the test procedure and a number of unsuccessful items were eliminated prior to standardising the test on 135 children aged 3-13 years. Subjects were carefully selected from the wider population of deaf children as being those who were in optimal language learning contexts. Although this may be considered a small sample for standardising a test, it reflects a high proportion of the population of children who are developing BSL under ideal conditions. Following publication of the test, analysis of data from its use with a larger unselected sample of deaf children allowed comparisons to be made with those in the standardisation study. The results provide insights into the conditions under which deaf children may acquire BSL naturally, even when BSL is not the home language. Areas explored by the study include the comparative language acquisition paths, as measured by the test, of deaf and hearing children from deaf families and deaf children from hearing families with diverse experiences of BSL input.