Steps to Equitably Include Deaf Students in Assessments

Publication Date: January 13, 2022

This image shows a young girl writing a test paper. She has a small piece of paper kept next to the test paper. It appears that she is trying to replicate the image on the piece of paper in a section of the test paper.
“Regrading tests, I feel so nervous. I feel shut down… Taking tests never elicit good feelings.” – Felica’s Story: Language Backgrounds and Test Access.



Standardized testing has many uses in education, but far too often deaf students are left without fully equitable test taking opportunities. These tests can be vital to a student’s success. They measure progress, document achieving, and show readiness for postsecondary education or employment.

The National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes (NDC) and the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO), a federally funded center with expertise in assessment accessibility for students with disabilities, have partnered together to create an important resource that shows three key steps to supporting deaf students in standardized testing, Steps to Equitably Include Deaf Students in Assessments.

We encourage you to use this guide and follow these three steps as you support deaf students in your school.

Step One: Understand the Characteristics and Needs of Deaf Students

No two deaf students are the same. They have diverse educational backgrounds, use many languages, and may have other disabilities. Without taking these factors into consideration during test design, standardized tests often don’t let deaf people show what they know.

  • Learn about deaf students’ language and communication backgrounds. Deaf students enter school with varying language and communication skills.
  • Learn about deaf students’ educational backgrounds. For deaf students, there are often barriers in general education classrooms, even with accommodations.

Step Two: Design Equitable Tests for Deaf Students

Tests need to be designed for the widest range of people, including deaf students. NDC has worked to highlight ways to apply fair standards to deaf test takers. Those ways include:

  • Include deaf professionals during test design and development. It is important to consider the access needs of deaf test takers throughout the assessment development process including using experts in the field to help identify and address accessibility issues.
  • Ensure that test developers know the characteristics of deaf people when developing item templates. Accessibility considerations also need to include how deaf students and possible accommodations will interact with the test items.
  • Collect information on items and test forms during pilot and field testing. During the test development process, collect data to document how deaf people access test content.

Step Three: Administer Tests with Accommodations to Improve Test Equity for Deaf Students

It is required by law to provide reasonable test accommodations, reduce the barriers that are irrelevant to the skill that the test measures, and allow deaf students to have access equal to their peers.

Those accommodations can vary widely. Captioned instructions, sign language interpretation, and extra time – are just a few of the accommodations that may be effective for your students. Use these methods to understand what may be needed:

  • Tailor accommodations based on students’ needs and preferences. Accommodations for testing should be like those used in the classroom. Provide students the opportunity to practice using the accommodations before test day.
  • Ensure that requested accommodations do not interfere with what is being measured. Know what is being measured by a test to make appropriate suggestions for accommodations or other supports.
  • Educate and empower deaf people to understand and explain their accommodation needs. Give deaf students the opportunity during instruction and assessments to show how they understand test content to better support accommodations decisions.
  • Offer American Sign Language (ASL) accommodation where appropriate. Hire and train professional interpreters and ASL linguistics experts who have experience working with education, testing, and the specific content area being tested.

Learn More About the Impacts of Test Equity

Too often we can forget that these numbers, statistics, and guidelines are real people impacted by the decisions and preparations that are made. Like Felicia’s story, you can learn firsthand how test access has impacted deaf students from these stories:

NDC is here to support you as you seek to expand access and opportunity for deaf students on your campus. For more strategies to create #DeafSuccess in test taking, be sure to use and share these resources or reach out to NDC for help from our expert help team

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