For students with demonstrated need, most standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT offer a wide range of special accommodations such as extra time, a quiet space, use of a computer for otherwise handwritten responses, handicap access, large print, dictation, and more, making it possible for most students to take these tests. And since 2003, the SAT, PSAT and AP test scores of students who take the tests with accommodations are no longer “flagged,” enabling those students to compete on equal footing with every other student.
By far the most common and covetted accommodation is extra time, typically time and half on the SAT and ACT. With ADHD and other learning differences increasingly diagnosed, demand for extra time is higher than ever. According to the CDC, over five million American children have ADHD, 8.6% of the child population. It follows that the standardized test companies are receiving huge numbers of applications for accommodations. As a result, the criteria have become more stringent, detailed and complicated, so it is crucial to get accommodations in place early and to follow the recommended procedures.
The system is far from perfect; many students fall through the cracks through no fault of their own. The student who, though granted extra time at school, has gamely persevered without using that extra time, will be denied it on the SAT or ACT, even though his documentation is in place. In one instance, a student at one of New York’s most competitive high schools, The Bronx High School of Science, had worked extra hard to take tests in school with his classmates, and was subsequently denied the critical recommendation for accomodations from the school psychologist, who claimed that his participation in regular testing negated his disability. Without the school psychologist on board, it is very difficult to prepare a package that the SAT or ACT administration will accept, even with other professional testing results.
Online bulletin boards are filled with pleas for advice from parents of children who merit accomodations but haven’t been accorded them. One problem is that the ACT considers high functioning learning-disabled students’ applications with prejudice because their academic achievements are subjectively ruled sufficient, even though they may be far below that student’s capability when granted the needed accommodation. There is some good news, though. According to an excellent recent article in the New York Times, court rulings and a revised disability law that goes into effect in March 2011 should help some of these students.
The parents of students who need extra time often have to make a tremendous – and sometimes costly – effort to secure their children’s rightful accommodations. In the long run, though, it is more than worth it, as test scores almost always jump up massively with the extra time. For anyone considering applying for accommodations, make this task a top priority in your college preparation.
Here are some excellent resources on testing accomodations:
- Extended Time and other Accommodations on the SAT and ACT
- New York Times Education section article: Accommodations Angst
- The National Center for Learning Disabilities – The SAT: Where It’s At
- SAT: The CollegeBoard’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD)
- Homeschoolers Applying for Accomodations on the SAT
- ACT: Services for Students with Disabilities
- GRE (also PRAXIS, TOEFL, AP tests, SATs)
- ETS’ advice for test-takers with disabilities