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Key principles and effective practice

This page outlines outline the purpose of the assessments, sets out some key factors to consider and summarises different types of assessments.

Elsewhere in this section, you can also find information on:

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Throughout the UK different terms are used for support given to children with special or additional needs including special educational needs (SEN) in England and Northern Ireland, additional support needs (ASN) in Scotland and additional learning needs (ALN) in Wales. Similarly, different terms are used to describe the person whose role is to coordinate provision for children with SEN, ASN or ALN within an education setting. For simplicity, in these pages, we use the term special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) to cover the different terms for this role.

The underachievement of deaf children is well documented and, despite technological advances and newborn hearing screenings, too many deaf children are still leaving school not having made the progress that was expected or with lower attainment than their peers. Research shows an enormous variation in the educational achievements of deaf pupils. 

For deaf children, assessments are likely to involve a range of professionals, using specialised assessments, and including the views of parents and young people themselves. This information supports this process, so that those involved with deaf children and young people understand how to monitor and assess their learning and development effectively.

The importance of assessment is recognised in guidance documents from across the UK. For example, paragraph 6.38 of SEND Code of Practice[1] in England states:

"In deciding whether to make special educational provision, the teacher and SENCO should consider all of the information gathered from within the school about the pupil's progress, alongside national data and expectations of progress. This should include high quality and accurate formative assessment, using effective tools and early assessment materials. For higher levels of need, schools should have arrangements in place to draw on more specialised assessments from external agencies and professionals."

[1] (accessed August 2020)

Assessments for deaf learners fall into two areas:

  1. Access to learning to make sure deaf children are fully included in education.
  2. Supporting the development of skills which allow children and young people to make decisions about their learning and become independent and autonomous learners.

The aim of these assessments is to understand each child’s individual progress and development in these two areas, as well as obtain a comparative measure with hearing children of a similar age. Areas of development known to be at risk because of early childhood deafness will need regular assessment and benefit from early identification and early intervention.

Assessments for deaf children help us:

  • understand the language and communication profile of the deaf child. This means we can effectively support communication choices and ensure full access to learning and social opportunities
  • support the development of literacy
  • support the development of mathematical skills
  • identify any underlying cognitive difficulties
  • identify additional learning needs
  • monitor and assess the effectiveness of hearing equipment in real-life situations
  • support and develop sound speech perception in real life situations
  • support and develop age appropriate attention and listening skills
  • promote clear and intelligible speech production
  • support and develop age appropriate social communication skills
  • promote good mental health and wellbeing.
  • identify areas of difficulty and strength.
  • identify areas of development or behaviour that are causing concern. Decide the cause and whether it can be attributed to a delay related to deafness or an additional learning difficulty which may need a different intervention strategy. Improvements in hearing technologies make it easier to identify additional difficulties than previously and reduce the risk of additional difficulties being attributed to deafness. However, determining whether a child has a language difficulty or delay because of their deafness remains a complicated task. This is why we usually need more than one assessment to get a full picture of progress, agree intervention strategies and targets. For example, if a child has low scores in vocabulary it may be because they’re not hearing words, the conversations they’re being exposed to are limited and poor quality, their auditory memory is poor, or because there’s another learning difficulty.
  • describe the child’s development and compare it with previous assessments so you can monitor their progress.
  • make judgements about whether the child’s progress is sufficient for the stage they’re at. Other factors will also need to be taken into account. For example, overall development, any concerns about child-parent interactions, age of fitting and maintenance of aids and implants.
  • inform planned intervention, teaching programmes, and targets.
  • inform and support family decision-making. For example approaches to communication, amplification package, educational placement and levels of support.
  • explore the effectiveness of the amplification being provided to the child; to provide information to clinic-based professionals such as audiologists about how any hearing technology is supporting the child in real-world situations.
  • identify areas which need further exploration by other professionals, for example a speech and language therapist or psychologist, and give information to them.
  • inform early years settings, schools or colleges of the reasonable steps that need to be taken so deaf learners are not treated less favourably with regard to accessing the curriculum and teaching and learning (i.e. to help ensure compliance with equality legislation).
  • make it possible to monitor and evaluate the impact of interventions and support strategies on children’s outcomes.

To ensure that assessments are used effectively to influence future management and learning it's important that the following factors are taken into account as they can influence the type and interpretation of test results:

  • age at diagnosis
  • age at, and type of, early intervention
  • cause of deafness
  • any other disabilities
  • age at fitting of hearing aids or implants, and type and fitting of this technology
  • the quality and nature of interactions between the child and parent.

It’s also important that:

  • all involved, including parents and non-specialists, are able to understand the assessments and their implications
  • those carrying out assessments share the outcomes with parental consent, in accessible formats
  • the assessments give a comprehensive picture of progress and not be looked at in isolation
  • the assessments are appropriate to the child and what is being assessed
  • the assessment isn’t compromised by any communication or language issues.

It’s important to distinguish between assessment and monitoring as both are vital in ensuring the continued progress of children.

Assessment is the process of gathering information from different sources to identify what a child knows, understands and can do.

Monitoring involves taking an overview of progress over time, often with specific indicators in mind. This will be guided by the results of previous assessments and the targets that have been identified as the next steps on the child’s developmental journey. Through regular monitoring we are ‘checking up’ that an intervention programme, such as specific support from Qualified Teachers of the Deaf or others, is working. Regular monitoring allows us to identify changes which have taken place which weren’t predicted. For example, to become aware of evidence of another emerging learning difficulty.

Professionals also use informal observations of the child’s skills and may use some informal assessment techniques to gain a full picture of a child’s progress. These are important, as a one-to-one assessment generally takes place in optimum conditions and it’s essential to identify how a child responds in other environments, such as at home, or in class.

There are several main types of assessments.  

  • Summative: This type of assessment is carried out after the learning has taken place and tells us what’s been learned. It may be pre-timetabled snapshots that take place at regular intervals, using prescribed assessment tools from a prescribed battery. These will be summative in that they will attempt to describe where the child is now, and the skills and understanding that they have achieved. Most support services or centres working with deaf children and young people and their families will have an agreed set of assessments that they carry out dependent on the child’s age and level of need/rate of progress. These will include standardised assessments (devised, trialled and statistically analysed on a representative sample of children) and non-standardised measures.
  • Formative: This type of assessment is often referred to as ‘assessment for learning’. It shows where the child is in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to support them in getting there. As with summative assessment, rigorous assessment is required but informal methods, such as skilled observation may be used. It takes place during learning, working with the pupil to identify what’s been learned and what the next steps are.
  • Dynamic: This is a recent type of assessment which is now being used more frequently. It aims to assess potential for learning by revealing an individual’s maximum performance and includes teaching or mediating within the assessment. The enhanced performance that result is evaluated and often compared to other tests. Dynamic assessment includes any testing in which the tester does more than give instructions, pose questions and record responses. A range of different methods can be used.[2] The information from this type of assessment can be used to complement norm referenced and descriptive testing such as video and interview analysis.

Examples of assessments available include:

  • Standardised tests: These are designed so that the questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent and are carried out and scored in a predetermined, standard way. The development of such tests will have been carried out with large groups, which will have included deaf children and other children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Tests will also have been carried out to validate them for use with deaf children to check that any results are meaningful and reliable. This ‘validation’ allows for comparisons to be made between individuals, and individuals and groups. Using tests standardised on large groups of children means that we can compare deaf children with their peers. This is essential if we’re going to raise standards for deaf children and close the attainment gap.
  • Criterion-referenced tests: These tests let us to judge behaviours or progress against identified targets. They reveal if the child has learnt the material or can carry out the behaviour being assessed. These tests don’t allow for comparisons.
  • Norm-referenced tests: These tests mean you can compare one child to his/her peers and will give scores which allow comparison between children.
  • Profiles give us a list of behaviours showing progress in a certain area, for example communication development.
  • Checklists/questionnaires are often used to determine progress in certain areas in the opinion of the child, their parent or teacher. They may have been developed with large groups to enable decisions to be made about progress in comparison with peers.
  • Video analyses are particularly useful with young or complex children as steps of development may be small and subtle.
  • Interview analyses allow us to explore issues in more depth and to focus on specific areas. Although time-consuming to analyse they’re a rich source of information.
  • Journal/diary analyses are particularly useful if focused on a specific area, such as vocabulary development.
  • Observational techniques may be used in the home, or in the classroom. Differing methods allow us to focus on specific areas during the observation period.

Note: the above categories are not mutually exclusive.

[2] Lauchlan F., Carrigan D. Improving Learning through Dynamic Assessment: A practical classroom resource. 2013. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. London.