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Assessments in practice

There are a number of things to consider when preparing for an assessment of a deaf child or young person:

  • Why are you carrying out the assessment? What’s the reason for the referral? Who needs the information? Assessments can be stressful for deaf children and they may not always perform at optimum levels.
  • The age of the child - this will determine which assessment procedure is appropriate.
  • The communication needs of the child. For example, is the child being disadvantaged by overly complex instructions?
  • What assessments have already been carried out and what information is already available about the child? For example, school reports or information shared by parents.
  • Whether the child has complex or additional needs which may mean they’re not able to access the assessment.
  • Who else knows the child well and should be involved?
  • The restrictions of the assessment being used. Some assessments can’t be used more than once every six months or yearly or their results will be invalidated due to ‘practice effect’ where child may become too familiar with the test. For example, tests such as the Assessment of Comprehension and Expression.
  • Whether the assessment has been requested by the school, the parents or the child themselves.

There should be an annual reassessment of progress in the identified areas of concern or risk for deaf children. More frequent assessments should be carried out if required.

The most appropriate person is likely to be someone who knows the child, but it will depend on:

  • the type of information required,
  • the assessment being used – some assessments are restricted as to who can use them.

Current national policy and guidance rightly stresses the importance of shared and joint assessments by practitioners with parents being present. Each practitioner will bring different skills and expertise to the situation, but parents have access to all of the child’s learning and behaviours in ways that practitioners cannot because they have less contact with the child. Parents will know whether their child’s behaviours are typical or atypical for them and whether they do something often or rarely.

The team working with the school may be made up of a range of practitioners, but no one will have ownership of all aspects of the assessment – each may contribute a specialist element. For example, the ToD may work with the audiologist to assess how well a child is using hearing aids or listens in noisy environments. The speech and language therapist may work with the ToD to carry out a specific language assessment, swapping roles to keep the child interested and to give each of them the chance to observe, as well as play the tester role.[1] Parents and practitioners may keep a record of behaviours as they reflect on achievements to date together. There’s often a lot to be learnt from how a child approaches a test item, how they deal with something they find hard or what they almost get right, as opposed to simply counting up what they get right or wrong.

Joint assessment is an effective way of gaining and sharing information about a child. It means everyone has a similar vision of what a child can do and needs to do next rather than practitioners carrying out their own assessments in isolation and then reporting results to colleagues and families. It also ensures data is shared and understood and everyone understands why certain recommendations are being made.

[1] Best Practice Guidance Collaborative Working between Speech and Language Therapists and Teachers of the Deaf 2019

It’s critical that the results from assessments carried out on deaf children provide the information they’re meant to. There are a number of specific considerations relevant to testing deaf children.

  • The tester should be familiar with testing deaf children and wherever possible should be familiar to the child.
  • Testers must be comfortable with the child’s communication preferences.
  • The tester should know the test procedure well so that they can focus on the child, not the assessment materials.
  • The tester should support the child to feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.
  • If appropriate, the child should be prepared for the assessment, know the purpose of it, how long it will take, and be encouraged without indicating if responses are right or wrong.
  • The child should be able to watch and listen easily. The tester should sit opposite or at right angles to the child and be comfortable with the child’s hearing technology. For example, if the child has a radio aid system then this should be used even if the distance between the child and the tester is small.
  • Attention should be paid to the acoustic conditions. Testing should be carried out in a quiet room with no interruptions.
  • The normal ‘rules’ for using the test should be adhered to. If any modifications are made, they must be recorded as a caveat and may invalidate test results.
  • The child’s responses may be recorded. Video recording is recommended and allows more detailed analysis and sharing later but this must only been done with parental permission. The storage of the material must also be compliant with data protection requirements.
  • Careful attention should be paid to how the child responds to the assessment. This information can be as useful as the results themselves.
  • Remember, it may be necessary to stop the test should a child become distressed, or it becomes evident that the test is inappropriate.

Research has identified that families want to know the following to ensure they can understand and meet the needs of their children. 

  • Where is my child up to? How is he/she doing?
  • What will he/she do next?
  • What can I do to help?
  • Is everything else all right?

An effective assessment and monitoring protocol of deaf children:

  • is focused on answering these questions for parents and schools
  • is swift to put into place programmes and interventions that are informed by the assessments
  • investigates areas of concern, identifying possible causes to inform teaching and learning
  • involves the family, including those where English is not their first language.

The starting place for monitoring and evaluating the child’s progress is a baseline assessment, done as soon after diagnosis as possible. A range of developmental and medical checks may also be carried out, as part of any health authority follow up.

Wherever possible, and in line with government policy and guidance, such assessments should be joint or multi-agency so that families receive an integrated service, there’s no unnecessary duplication and parents don’t have to repeat their story multiple times.

Services should ensure there are policies and practices in place that enable them to provide clear advice and support, promote a sense of growth and development for parents and help everyone to be clear about what will, or should, happen next. This advice and support should be tailored to and complement the family’s natural parenting style, rather than challenge and change it. The family’s view as to how their child is progressing should underpin any professional intervention. All assessment information about children must be obtained and stored in line with data protection requirements.

Most services and schools will routinely carry out a range of tests and procedures, particularly for children on their regular caseloads or in their resource bases or specialist schools. This includes a number of tests and procedures used to establish linguistic and literacy levels and a smaller number of other aspects of development such as attitudes and behaviour and personal/social development. These are in addition to the procedures that will be used to monitor the learning of all children, such as those linked in England to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), performance indicators, differentiated National Curriculum Key Stage levels, reading and maths tests.

Some services also produce handouts or booklets that help parents answer the question “How do I know my child is making enough progress? These booklets outline how the service uses information from videos, diaries, communication records, etc. The usual timescales for reviews are included so all parents understand what might typically happen and what their role in it will be. It’s vital that parents don’t feel ‘the system’ takes over. It’s important that the parents, as experts on their own child, have control of the process and their input is valued by professionals. 

“It meant so much to us as a family to have people to spend the time with David and help us understand who he is a bit more and the difficulties that relate to him. I really thought the assessment was so accurate and acutely intuitive. Everything that was said was like a penny dropping to me and I came home feeling much closer to my son and had lots to tell my family. I feel more positive about finding ways of getting David to express himself more and talk to us more – predominantly more time and attention.” 
- Parent of deaf child with complex needs

It’s vital that feedback following assessment includes parents, it should also make the next steps clear - even when there are major difficulties, or if new challenges have been uncovered.

The feedback needs to lead to action and to improved outcomes in identified areas for the child. This may involve multi-professional feedback and relaying the information to family and teachers or support workers from a range of assessments.

Following assessment, we should be able to:

  • highlight strengths and weaknesses,
  • identify if progress is delayed or if irregular in a certain area
  • identify if progress in an area is impacted by other factors. For example, cognitive abilities or management of deafness
  • identify if there are other areas which need to be explored by another professional
  • identify if there are management issues which need to be changed such as, acoustics in the classroom or communication interactions and if so, how
  • share the information with parents and teachers and the child/young person in accessible formats and involve them in decisions
  • identify the measurable targets which can be set and include time frames.

Combining information from different assessments and ongoing monitoring, particularly for children with complex needs will provide a picture of their current functioning. It will also help professionals to make decisions about management and future learning as well as any teaching objectives that need to be made. This feedback should be made orally/signed and in writing if possible.

Curriculum frameworks and inspection frameworks both include requirements to monitor and document children and young people’s progress towards their targets. As with other additional learning needs, it’s important that checks are made regularly to assess how deaf children and young people are doing in relation to targets in areas such as English and mathematics, but also into other areas that are at risk.

For a deaf child, this is likely to include the development of listening skills, language levels, attitudes to learning and personal development, including behaviour. Children are likely to have ‘specialist’ targets in these areas set within their personal education or single plan. These targets need to be written in such a way that stepping stones towards them can be identified and checked on regularly – often at half term or termly intervals – and support adjusted if the child does not appear to be progressing swiftly enough. These steps may be very small and require skilled observation and monitoring to note.