Auslan Receptive Skills and Productive Skills Tests

The Auslan Assessment and Early Intervention Strategies Project (AAEISP) was undertaken from 2011-2012. The AAEISP was funded by the Victorian Deaf Education Institute (VDEI) and the Department of Early Education and Childhood Development (DEECD) in the State Government of Victoria, Australia. It was carried out by deaf and hearing researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne. The project had the following aims:


- To produce definitive Auslan versions of the existing British Sign Language Receptive Skills Test (RST) (Herman et al., 1999) and Production Skills Test (PST);


- To investigate test validity by collecting and analysing data from signing deaf children and adults using the Auslan versions of the RST and PST;


- To produce an Auslan developmental checklist based on existing checklists and on a review of the signed language literature;


- To provide a review of current signed language assessment practices in programs for deaf children in Victoria and of early identification strategies employed when language delay is identified.


This project successfully produced an Auslan version of the RST and PST and confirmed that these tests are effective for identifying signed language delay in deaf children learning Auslan. The project also produced an Auslan developmental checklist, based on an existing checklist in use in Victoria. However, appropriate use of the Auslan RST, PST and development checklist requires significant training.

Manual of the Auslan Receptive Skills Test
Figure 1: Manual of the Auslan Receptive Skills Test


Purpose of the test

The Auslan Receptive Skills Test aims to assess deaf children’s Auslan receptive skills. 

The Auslan Productive Skills Test aims to asses deaf children’s Auslan production skills and narrative development. These two tests are the definitive Auslan versions of the existing British Sign Language Receptive Skills Test (RST) and Production Skills Test (PST). These Auslan adaptations build on the Pilot Auslan Receptive Skills Test documented in Johnston (2004).

The Auslan RST and PST can be used to analyse the receptive and productive Auslan skills of deaf children who fall outside the age range and other criteria of children who can be tested by this assessment kit, to identify gaps in their Auslan receptive and productive skills. However, the standardised scores cannot be applied to cohorts beyond (a) deaf children age 4-11, and (b) deaf children within this age range who do not have additional cognitive, physical and/or behavioural disabilities. We would not recommend its use for any other purposes.


Age group targets

Deaf signing children age 4-11. Standardised scores can be applied to deaf children age 4-11 who do not have other cognitive, physical and/or behavioural disabilities.


Development of the two Auslan tests

The Auslan adaptations of the RST and PST were tested using data from one group of native signing deaf children, one group of native signing deaf adults, and one group of non-native signing children. Despite problems with some test items related to iconicity and possible retesting effects that were present in the original and normed BSL RST and PST, the testing process confirmed that the adapted Auslan RST and PST successfully differentiate native and non-native signed language use. These tests are therefore effective for identifying Auslan delay in deaf children’s communication development. However, the validity of the Auslan RST and PST cannot be confirmed until hearing non-signers have also been tested.


Usability of the tests

The adapted Auslan RST and PST can be used to both identify gaps and monitor the signed language development of all deaf and hard-of-hearing children, i.e. native and non-native signers, as well as signers with additional cognitive, physical and/or behavioural disabilities. The tests may also potentially be used for teachers and other signing staff to practice analysing videos of target signed responses from adult language models.

However, the standardised scores can only be used with deaf children aged 4-11 who do not have other cognitive, phsyical and/or behavioural disabilities. Consequently, this means the standardised scores may not be used with many deaf and hard-of-hearing children in signing programs. In other words, there is still no normed signed language assessment tool for all deaf children in any signing programs. We echo here Johnston’s recommendation that all signing programs require “strong and vigorous early intervention component and there must be an ongoing presence of highly proficient Auslan signing staff in the school environment” (Johnston, 2004, p. 77).

Regarding administration of the tests, only teachers and staff who are competent in Auslan can undertake the accredited training course, which must be delivered in Auslan. Not only will this ensure that only competent and fluent signers become accredited signed language assessors, it also means that all participants must pass this accredited training course in order to use these tests with children. This is a requisite of the both original BSL tests and all adaptations for very good reason: it is not possible to understand and use these tests without accredited training.

Assessing children’s responses to the Auslan PST in particular is a complicated and often ambiguous process. Teachers and staff will need to draw on their training and also crosscheck their assessment with other accredited testers. Furthermore, if teachers do not pass the training requirements of the proposed accredited course, schools must organise for extrenal accredited assessors to test their signing students instead. We are aware that several other adaptations of the BSL RST are available in Australia. However, these versions have not been tested with different groups of signers and following the directions from the original authors of the BSL RST and PST. They are not acceptable adaptations and should not be used.



The Auslan RST and PST are currently only available via the Victoria Deaf Education Institute (VDEI). As of 2020, the VDEI has no current plans to providing training to potential signed language assessors. We believe the VDEI still has a number of the testing kits available for purchase.

A definitive training course and training manual needs to be developed to train teachers in the use of the tests and checklist, and to assist their long-term engagement with these tools. This includes better understanding and mitigating possible risks from continuously retesting students, since it is the only Auslan assessment tool of its kind available. VDEI needs to work with signed language linguists and researchers to develop an accredited course for teachers that complies with Registered Training Accreditations (RTA). This will mean that teachers have accreditation approved by the creators of the original BSL tests and the creators of the adapted Auslan versions. It will also mean that services can be accessed by funding grants such as Better Start or the National Disability Insurance Scheme, among others, which require funds to be used for accessing accredited service providers only.


Strengths and weaknesses

As mentioned briefly above, there are some in-built assumptions in the tests about age-appropriate use of specific signed language constructions, and the role of iconicity for interpreting test stimuli. However, these do not detract from the overall success of the test at identifying language delay and possible areas of weakness in Auslan signing deaf children. Since it is the only Auslan assessment tool of its kind available, an ongoing issue is possible risks from using it to continuously retest students.



Summarized by Gabrielle Hodge and Adam Schembri (2020).

For more information regarding this test, please contact   Adam Schembri at University of Birmingham or  Gabrielle Hodge at University College London.