Seeking accommodations on the SAT and ACT exams can be a journey of turmoil and
frustration for the parents of and students with learning disabilities. Historically, testing organizations have long feared that unmerited accommodations—especially extra time, undermines their exam’s integrity. Meanwhile, courts have decided that a disability must be severely limiting to be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Taking their cue from this definition, testing organizations have especially scrutinized students with average to above-average academic performance—after all, how can a student do so well and be significantly impaired?
The premise is that the A.D.A. is outcome neutral, which means they are not looking
to maximize a student’s performance so that they can do the best they can necessarily. They are simply attempting to provide “equal access.” Whichever the exam, applicants need to
demonstrate that their disability substantially limits their daily functioning and their ability to take the test. They must show that their requested accommodation fits their disability. Additionally, students also must prove they have used similar accommodations in their school, even if informally. The presumption is that if you are not using it, you do not really need it.
Public schools may have formal plans: an Individualized Education Plan for specialized
instruction, services, accommodations and academic goals, or a less intensive Section 504 Plan. Private schools, on the other hand, may provide accommodations informally, like giving time at lunch to finish a test. Parents need to be organized and obtain a copy of everything in the child’s school files as early as possible. A history of educational difficulties is important to establish. All of this documentation is vitally important to present when asking for accommodations.
- Requirements and procedures for test accommodations must ensure fairness for all candidates, both those seeking accommodations and those testing under standard conditions.
- Accommodations must be consistent with ADA requirements and appropriate and reasonable for the documented disability.
- Accommodations must not result in an undue burden, as that term is used under the ADA, or fundamentally alter that which the test is designed to measure.
- Documentation of the diagnosis must meet guidelines that are considered to be appropriate by qualified professionals and must provide evidence that the person's impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities. Applicants must also provide information about prior accommodations made in a similar setting, such as in academic classes and other testing situations.
Currency of Submitted Documentation
To best assess the current impact of an examinee's disability or functional limitations as they apply to the test-taking process, the documentation must be sufficiently current and appropriate to the particular disabling condition. For most, the disability must have been diagnosed or
reconfirmed by a qualified professional within the 3 academic years prior to the date of the request. In addition to the diagnostic documentation, applicants are asked to submit information regarding whether accommodations have previously been provided in an academic setting or on other standardized tests due to the disability.
Learning Disabilities: The applicant must provide the results of age-appropriate diagnostic testing performed by a qualified professional. Documentation, including all standard scores and percentiles (including subtests) that are reliable, valid, and standardized measures, must address the following:
- Description of the presenting problem(s) and its(their) developmental history, including relevant educational and medical history.
- Neuropsychological or psychoeducational evaluation which includes results of an aptitude assessment using a complete and comprehensive battery.
- Results of a complete achievement battery.
- Results of an assessment of information processing.
- Other appropriate assessments for consideration of differential diagnosis from co-existing neurological or psychiatric disorders.
- Specific diagnosis and evidence that alternative explanations were ruled out.
- Description of the functional limitations supported by the test results and a rationale for the recommended test accommodations specific to those functional limitations.
Seven guidelines for documentation –All submitted documentation must include the following:
- State the specific disability, as diagnosed. Diagnosis should be
made by a person with appropriate professional credentials, should be specific, and, when appropriate, should relate the disability to the applicable professional standards, for example, DSM-IV.
- Be current. In most cases, the evaluation and diagnostic testing should
have taken place within five years of the request for accommodations. For psychiatric disabilities, an annual evaluation update must be within 12 months of the request for accommodations. For visual disabilities, documentation should be within two years, and for physical/medical, an update must be within one year from the time of the request.
- Provide relevant educational, developmental, and medical
- Describe the comprehensive testing and techniques used to arrive at the diagnosis. Include test results with subtest scores (standard or
scaled scores) for all tests. See Documenting Specific Disabilities for a listing of frequently used tests and what they measure.
- Describe the functional limitations. Explain how the disability impacts the student’s daily functioning and ability to participate in the test.
- Describe the specific accommodations being requested on
College Board tests, including the amount of extended time required or the maximum amount of time the student can be tested in a day, if applicable. State why the disability qualifies the student for such accommodations on standardized tests.
- Establish the professional credentials of the evaluator (for example, licensure; certification; area of specialization).