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American Sign Language Proficiency Test


Drs. Frank Caccamise & William Newell June 2006

The SLPI, a conversational approach to sign language communication skills assessment, is based on the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) (also known as the Language Proficiency Interview/LPI). Like the O/LPI, the SLPI permits interview content to vary according to the job responsibilities, background, and interests of each person interviewed. Consistent with the O/LPI, the goal of the SLPI is to assess how well people are able to use sign language for their communication needs, and, as appropriate, to assist people in development of their sign language communication skills.

The SLPI involves a one-to-one conversation between the interviewer and candidate/interviewee, with each interviewee videotaped and subsequently rated independently by SLPI raters. [See Attachments 2 and 3 for SLPI candidate information and tips.] The basis for ratings is the SLPI Rating Scale (Attachment 4), a standard scale based on a highly skilled, knowledgeable native/native-like signer.

The SLPI-ASL assesses American Sign Language (ASL) as it is used among skilled sign language communicators in the United States. This use includes the full range of ASL from pure, linguistic descriptions of ASL to English influenced signing. This full range is characterized by (a) meaning- based sign language vocabulary selection consistent with standardized signs in current use by skilled language users, and (b) a variety of grammatical features that are consistent with effective use of gestural/visual language for communication. These grammatical features include: (a) space, indexing, eye gaze, sign movement directionality, and body shifts to separate ideas and to identify and discuss persons, places, and objects present and not present; (b) classifiers for describing and representing persons, places, and objects and their movements (for example, use of the index finger to represent “a person”); (c) sign-word order which facilitates effective communication in gestural-visual language; and (d) facial expressions and other body movements (non-manual signals) to support and add to information communicated (for example, affirmative and negative head movements). In addition to vocabulary and grammatical features, clarity of sign production, fluency, and comprehension are important to effective communication when using a gestural-visual language, and therefore are considered in SLPI-ASL ratings. Further explanation of what is assessed by the SLPI is provided in the SLPI Notebook, Section 5, Skills Important for Effective Sign Language Communication and SLPI- ASL Rating Levels.

As we have discussed consistently in SLPI presentations and published materials, follow-up is critical to successful use of the SLPI. Thus, SLPI candidates are encouraged to schedule SLPI follow-up meetings. During follow-up meetings candidates have the opportunity to meet with sign language specialists to review and discuss their SLPI videotapes as a basis for planning skill development activities based on their individual communication skills and need.

 (a)The SLPI was referred to as the Sign Communication Proficiency Interview (SCPI) from 1983 to May 2006.



  1. You and the interviewer will have a conversation about social and work topics. The interviewer will ask you questions, and you may ask questions.


  2. We want to get the best sample of your American Sign Language (ASL) skills.


  3. In order to elicit your best ASL skills, the interviewer may ask you to re-sign (restate) some responses.


  4. We will evaluate your ASL skills, including (a) ASL vocabulary; (b) clarity and control of sign production; (c) use of ASL grammatical features (for example, use of space, sign directionality, classifiers, time indicators, and sentence/discourse structure); (d) non-manual behaviors such as facial expression and body shifts, (e) fluency or smoothness of sign and fingerspelling production, and (f) comprehension (skill in receiving ASL).


  5. Please try to maintain a good "signing posture"; that is, please sit upright. This should help you to demonstrate your best sign ASL skills.


  6. Please answer the questions as completely as possible. Do you have any questions? Please use ASL.



**NOTE: For videotape purposes, we would appreciate it if you would wear medium-to-dark, solid colored, skin contrasting clothing to your interview. Please do not wear white or very light colored clothing. Please sit on a chair, not a swivel or rocking chair, or on a bed. The background must be solid and plain. Thank you.




  1. RELAX! Take a deep breath, rub your hands, talk about the weather--anything that will help you to relax and be confident.


  2. RATE OF SIGNING: Sign at a rate that is comfortable for you. If you know that you make many mistakes when you sign quickly, slow down.


  3. KEEP SIGNING: Don’t stop the conversation by signing simply YES or NO. Be generous. Give details, explain your point, develop your thoughts, and make comparisons. Anything that shows you can discuss a topic in depth will help you perform better. If you are not a “talkative” person by nature, you must make an extra effort to communicate during the interview.


  4. DON’T DOWNGRADE YOURSELF: Don’t apologize for your signing skills. Be positive. Let the interview show your skills.



  1. IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE: If you know you made a mistake, correct it and continue. Correcting a mistake can help your performance.


  2. IF YOU GET LOST IN A LONG EXPLANATION: Stop. Think. Say something like, “Let me tell you again--it is complicated.” Then try again. Don’t worry about what happened. No one expects you to sign without mistakes.


  3. IF YOU BECOME NERVOUS DURING THE INTERVIEW: The interviewer will know you are nervous and help you. You can stop for a few seconds and get control. Relax. Admit you are nervous and joke about it. Often this is enough to make you comfortable again.


  4. IF SOMETHING IS INTERFERING WITH YOUR SIGNING: If you can’t see the interviewer clearly, say so. If you want a window opened, say so. Remember that this is your interview. You should have the best possible interview conditions.


Superior Plus

Able to have a fully shared and natural conversation, with in-depth elaboration for both social and work topics. All aspects of signing are native-like. 



Able to have a fully shared conversation, with in-depth elaboration for both social and work topics. Very broad sign language vocabulary, near native-like production and fluency, excellent use of sign language grammatical features, and excellent comprehension for normal signing rate.

Advanced Plus

Exhibits some superior level skills, but not all and not consistently.


Able to have a generally shared conversation with good, spontaneous elaboration for both social and work topics. Broad sign language vocabulary knowledge and clear, accurate production of signs and fingerspelling at a normal/near-normal rate; occasional misproductions do not detract from conversational flow. Good use of many sign language grammatical features and comprehension good for normal signing rate.

Intermediate Plus

Exhibits some advanced level skills, but not all and not consistently.


Able to discuss with some confidence routine social and work topics within conversational format with some elaboration; generally 3-to-5 sentences. Good knowledge and control of everyday/basic sign language vocabulary with some sign vocabulary errors. Fairly clear signing at a moderate signing rate with some sign misproductions. Fair use of some sign language grammatical features and fairly good comprehension for a moderate-to-normal signing rate; a few repetitions and rephrasing of questions may be needed.

Survival Plus

Exhibits some intermediate skills, but not all and not consistently.


Able to discuss basic social and work topics with responses generally 1-to-3 sentences in length. Some knowledge of basic sign language vocabulary with many sign vocabulary and/or sign production errors. Slow-to-moderate signing rate. Basic use of a few sign language grammatical features. Fair comprehension for signing produced at a slow-to-moderate rate with some repetition and rephrasing.

Novice Plus

Exhibits some survival level skills, but not all and not consistently.


Able to provide single sign and some short phrase/sentence responses to basic questions signed at a slow-to-moderate rate with frequent repetition and rephrasing. Vocabulary primarily related to everyday work and/or social areas such as basic work-related signs, family members, basic objects, colors, numbers, names of weekdays, and time. Production and fluency characterized by many sign production errors and by a slow rate with frequent inappropriate pauses/hesitations.


No Functional Skills

May be able to provide short single sign and “primarily” fingerspelled responses to some basic questions signed at a slow rate with extensive repetition and rephrasing.


(a)   Adapted from US Foreign Service Institute & ACTFL LPI Rating Scales by William Newell & Frank Caccamise 
(b)   The SLPI was referred to as the Sign Communication Proficiency Interview (SCPI) from 1983 to May 2006.

For all SLPI rating descriptors, first statement (in bold type) always a statement of ASL communicative functioning, with all remaining statements (regular type) descriptors of ASL form (vocabulary, production, fluency, grammar, and comprehension). June 2006 (revised edition)

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