Assessing a Deaf Child’s ASL Workshop: An Interview with Dr. Bobbie Jo Kite & Dr. Laurene Simms

Image Description: A white woman standing against a white background, she has brown hair is wearing a black top, and is smiling at the camera
Dr. Bobbie Jo Kite

In June, the National ASL & English Bilingual Consortium for Early Childhood Education (NASLECE) held the inaugural “Assessing a Deaf Child’s ASL” workshop in Washington, DC. The three-day workshop featured seven presenters from the fields of linguistics, bilingual education, visual language and learning, and family language policy; and was attended by twenty-two practitioners from 15 different states. The workshops were oriented to a critical gap in the field: providing authentic and developmentally appropriate American Sign Language assessment tools.

Image Description: An African American woman stands against a grey background. She is smiling at the camera, she is bald has glasses, and is wearing a red button up shirt
Dr. Laurene Simms

The demand for trained professional language assessors has increased in large part due to Language Acquisition and Equality for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K)’s policy efforts to improve educational accountability in tracking and monitoring the language acquisition of deaf children. At the workshop, experts (aka trainers) collaborated with practitioners in the field to reconcile theory and applications of the language assessment tools. The workshop was a success: participants left the training with a desire for more workshops and conferences, and some even asked to be trainers for the next workshop.

The Nyle DiMarco Foundation caught up with Dr. Bobbie Jo Kite and Dr. Laurene Simms, board members of NASLECE, and asked them a few questions about the success of Assessing a Deaf Child’s ASL workshop.

How did the idea for Assessing a Deaf Child’s ASL workshop come about?
The idea has been slow simmering in the background from various stakeholders, especially the professionals in the field of ASL and English bilingual education. The LEAD-K movement prompted the workshop to materialize. Dr. Laurene Simms, with the support of the Department of Education at Gallaudet University, orchestrated the training. The outcome was an overwhelming interest which resulted in a long waiting list! Without the support of the foundation, this would have not been possible.

What did you aim to accomplish with the Assessing a Deaf Child’s ASL workshop?
Our goals were to have the participants apply various sign language assessment tools, explore ways of assessing young children’s language and learning at home and in educational settings and identify and discuss appropriate assessment approaches to meet the language and literacy needs of diverse children. We wanted our participants to leave feeling confident handling various assessment tools, compiling a report and creating activities to support families with the language acquisition. We accomplished that and more!

Why are language assessment tools so important?
The language assessment tools are essential for preventing and reducing misinformation and lack of training from the medical community which contributes to the language deprivation of Deaf children (Eleweke & Rodda, 2000; Humphries, et al., 2012). Hearing parents usually know very little about being Deaf or sign language and rely on their primary care physicians as a source of information, support, and referrals (Kushalnagar et al., 2010). The majority of professionals in the medical field see the children from a clinical or pathological perspective, and they lack the knowledge about the linguistic, literacy, and academic needs of the Deaf child (Larwood & LaGrande, 2004). Knowing that 96% of deaf children are born to hearing families, along with the continued misinformation from the medical professionals, there is a great need to ensure ASL skills is assessed accurately, and by experts.

What were participants’ main takeaways from the workshop?
The participants walked away feeling confident and the workshops were very oriented to their needs. The workshops benefited their current work scope.  They developed skills to accurately assess young deaf children’s ASL skills using appropriate assessment tools. The participants wanted more of this. The workshop gave professionals the ability to network, share resources and knowledge with each other and that they continue to be supported in their field. The connections were so strong that they set up a private Facebook page to continue this dialogue throughout the year. They look forward to the next training during June 25-29, 2018.

What’s next for the workshop?
The workshop promoted the need for intensive training for the cohort in addition to the new group that’s on a long waiting list for next year. We hope to develop a pool of qualified evaluators to support other professionals in all states. We hope the LEAD-K movement will utilize the qualified evaluators in leading language assessment tools for young deaf children.

Any last words?
We hope and look forward to the Nyle DiMarco Foundation’s continued support. Thank you for sharing our work so that we all can tackle the language deprivation in deaf children.

The Nyle DiMarco Foundation thanks Dr. Bobbie Jo Kite and Dr. Laurene Simms for their dedication and efforts to start the Assessing a Deaf Child’s ASL Workshop and for taking the time to answer questions for this article. To learn more about NASLECE, visit:

Participants and presenters of the Assessing a Deaf Child’s ASL workshop.

Eleweke, J.C. & Rodda, M. (2000). Factors contributing to parent’s selection of a communication mode to use with their deaf children. American Annals of the Deaf, 145(4), 375–383.

Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, D.J., Padden, C., Rathmann, C. & Smith, S.R.  (2012). Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero tolerance to the use of alternative approaches. Harm Reduction Journal, 9(16), 1–9.

Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Moreland, C.J., Napoli, D.J., Osterling, W., Padden, C., & Rathmann, C. (2010). Infants and children with hearing loss need early language access. Journal of Clinical ethics, 21, 143–154.

Larwood, L., & LaGrande, J. (2004). Early intervention collaboration: Deaf role models. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 8(3) 248–251.

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