I have blogged previously about how essential it is for parents to ensure that any informal accommodations received by their child, particularly those related to testing, are documented in the child’s IEP or 504 Plan. Memorializing these accommodations will hopefully preserve them later for such high stakes testing as college entrance exams. What accommodations children receive for such high stakes testing as the ACT or SAT are determined not by the child’s public school, whose IEP or 504 teams work to develop testing accommodations, but by the private testing services who develop the college entrance examinations. Just because a student receives extended time on a school exam, is provided with a scribe, or has the test read to him or her is no guarantee that he or she will receive these same accommodations on these high stakes tests. When parents call in dismay after their children have been denied these accommodations, I have to tell them that my hands are tied. I can rarely provide them with any real after-the-fact assistance.
I’ve written before about the tension between private test companies that want to maintain the integrity of the tests they administer and students with disabilities who require appropriate accommodations to have fair access to the test. Unfortunately, the challenges have increased as more and more states (up to 23 now) are mandating that students take either the ACT or SAT to meet Federal accountability standards. There is a fine balance between weeding out test takers who are trying to “game” the system with newly discovered “disabilities” and the many students for whom accommodations are essential to level the proverbial playing field. In my experience the whole concept of gaming the system is a bit of an urban myth and well over-blown.
Students who take the ACT with accommodations that are not approved by the ACT receive scores that are not “college reportable.” In 2016, 11,200 students received non-college reportable scores, which is viewed by many as discriminatory. However, with the publication in September of 2015 of a Technical Assistance Document on Testing Accommodations from the US Department of Justice, there may be help on the horizon for test takers. This document, which discusses testing accommodations that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), states that a “testing entity must administer an exam so that it accurately reflects an individual’s aptitude, achievement level, or the skill that the exam purports to measure rather than the individual’s impairment (except where the impaired skill is one the exam purports to measure).”
In addition to college entrance examinations, students with disabilities are also entitled to testing accommodations for other post-secondary exams, such as professional licensing exams for trade licenses (e.g., cosmetology, electrician); high school equivalency exams (GEDs); admission exams to professional schools (GRE, LSAT, MCAT); or professional credentials (medical license, bar association exams).
To parents who have previously been burdened by the expense of acquiring additional testing to demonstrate their child's need for testing accommodations, the DOJ states that “if a candidate previously received testing accommodations under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a Section 504 Plan, he or she should generally receive the same testing accommodations for a current standardized exam or high-stakes test.” Additionally, for students who have been newly diagnosed, the DOJ states, “An absence of previous formal testing accommodations does not preclude a candidate from receiving testing accommodations.” These students most certainly will need to provide paperwork justifying their need for accommodations, but accommodations are still possible for them.
Additionally, the DOJ recognizes that high achieving students with disabilities may still need testing accommodations under the ADA. Previously, parents frequently were told that students with high grades weren't eligible for accommodations, no matter how much extra effort compared with their peers that these students had to expend to achieve their grades. According to the document, “. . . someone with a learning disability may achieve a high level of academic success, but may nevertheless be substantially limited in one or more of the major life activities of reading, writing, speaking, or learning, because of the additional time or effort he or she must spend to read, write, speak, or learn compared to most people in the general population."
Please work very closely with the school guidance counselors when attempting to secure accommodations for your child, but you need to be proactive also. Make sure that you know application deadlines and understand the process of applying for accommodations. I have seen more than a few schools that have missed deadlines. Should your child not qualify for accommodations, please be sure to enlist help from the Technical Assistance document from the Department of Justice. As an aside, please be aware that students who take high-stakes tests may receive their scores at a later date than other students who test on the same date. This late receipt of a score might affect application deadlines, particularly students who are taking tests at the beginning of their senior year. Please check both dates with the guidance counselor at your child’s high school and plan accordingly. You don't want your child to miss an application deadline because his or her ACT or SAT test has not yet been scored. Good luck for a bright future to all students who are or have started school this year!