Help! My Child Might Need Testing Accommodations!

Spring is a time for many exciting events.. The end of school, prom, graduation, camp shopping.. But it can also be a time of significant stress for many families of students with special needs who do not quite meet the requirements for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) but who still need some accommodations on testing, particularly standardized testing such as the SAT, ACT and AP exams. The process can be daunting (and expensive) so I wanted to share an outline of the process to help clarify some unanswered questions parents (and students) might have.

What accommodations can my child receive on the ACT/SAT exams?

Probably the most common accommodation requested is Extended time, or specifically, time and a half for the test. This comes out to 5 hours for the ACT, and 5 hours and 45 minutes for the ACT Plus Writing. For the new SAT, time and a half, or 50 percent additional time  is 4 hours and 30 minutes without the essay, and 5 hours and 45 minutes for the new SAT  Essay. Double time, or 100 percent additional time is 6 hours on the new SAT without the essay, and 7 hours and 40 minutes for the new SAT Essay.
When students take the SAT with 100 percent or more additional time, the exam is administered over two days and in the student’s school instead of at a designated test center.

For the ACT, other common accommodations include large-print test booklets, small group testing, rooms with wheelchair access, stop-the-clock timing, medical supplies or food in the testing room, or visual time signals. For the SAT common accommodations include computer use for essays, extra and extended breaks, reading and seeing accommodations and use of a four-function calculator.  Students might not need extra time in every section of the testing. If there is a disability in reading the extended time will be given for the entire test as the entire test requires reading. However, if the child has a math disability they may not need extended time for the critical reading section of the SAT.
How Does My Child Qualify for Accommodations?

Only students with documented disabilities or conditions will qualify for accommodations on the ACT and SAT. The qualification process and documentation needed will vary by disability/condition and when your child received his/her diagnosis. As a basic rule of thumb, the more recent the diagnosis and/or the fewer accommodations received in school, the more detailed documentation you will have to provide.

There are two broad categories of documentation you will need:

1. Record of your accommodations in school. You’ll need to have qualified officials at your school send documentation of your IEP (Individualized Education Plan), Section 504 Plan or other Official Accommodations Plan you have in place. If you haven’t been receiving accommodations, you will have to provide a detailed explanation as to why you haven’t used academic accommodations in the past and why you need them for the ACT/SAT.

2. Complete diagnostic documentation of your child’s disability or condition. This will vary by condition, but will absolutely be required if the initial diagnosis was made within 3 years prior to the accommodations request, the disability is visual, hearing, psychological, emotional, or physical, and/or accommodations in addition to extended time or alternate format are requested.

You will not need to provide complete diagnostic documentation if the diagnosis was reconfirmed within one year prior to your request and it is more than 3 years old. In that case, ACT will accept your school’s verification of having documentation on file, though they reserve the right to request that documentation at any point. In other words, if you’ve had your condition for a long time and your IEP or 504 Plan was updated in the past year, and you received diagnostic testing which reconfirmed a persistent diagnosis, the ACT will not request complete documentation.

The disability categories the ACT and Collegeboard approves requests for are as follows:

Learning Disabilities

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Psychiatric Disorders (Mood or Anxiety Disorders or Serious and Persistent Mental Illness)

Visual Impairment

Hearing Impairment

Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Development Disorder

Speech and Language Disorders/Communication Disorders

Medical Conditions

Tic Disorders

Traumatic Brain Injuries

To answer a common question about accommodations, limited English proficiency is NOT considered a condition that can make one eligible for accommodations, and furthermore the test is only available in English.

Example: Documentation for a Learning Disability

As an example, let’s look at the documentation required for a learning disability – one of the most common disability categories in schools. You would need to submit all of the following to document your condition:

1. A description of your child’s learning disability and its developmental history. This would include a history of how your child’s learning disability has affected him/her in school over the years, as well as his/her diagnostic history.

2. A neuro-psychological or psycho-educational evaluation that includes results of an intellectual assessment using a “complete and comprehensive battery.” The testing completed for your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan), if she has one, most likely will meet this requirement. However, it depends on what the testing results are and the accommodations needed. If your child does not have an IEP and either has a 504 plan or no current accommodations, you will then need to go to an outside source to get appropriate testing completed.

Once you have the testing completed, you will need to apply for the accommodations through either (collegeboard.org) for SAT, SAT-2 and AP exams or ACT (act.org)

3. Complete the official form indicating the accommodations you are requesting. Click on the type of accommodation you are requesting and you will be linked to the appropriate form needed for the request. Your request is then sent to a review board who will respond to your request and let you know if any additional documentation is required. It is important to get your paperwork in as early as possible in case you need further documentation or testing. Basically, if they don’t think they can approve your request, they will give you a chance to provide more evidence.

The specialist will either approve or deny your request, providing a written reason why, and notify you by mail of the decision. If you are denied, you will again be given a chance to submit new materials and appeal.

The ACT and Collegeboard want to know, besides the fact that your child was diagnosed with a disability, how this actual disability affects his/her ability to perform within standardized conditions on the standardized test. For example, say your child has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Does this anxiety disorder affect your child’s ability to concentrate? Does it flare up when under significant stressful situations such as test taking? Is it more difficult for your child to perform on timed tasks and would just knowing that the pressure of time was removed help him perform more to his true ability level?

It is important that a full “story” of your child’s disability over time has been documented and verified. There are other instances where the reason for testing accommodations would not need to have a long standing record such as a recent head injury or other recent issue that is causing the current difficulty requiring accommodations. There are other specific guidelines needed to follow for these situations that can be found on the appropriate website for the test.

What tests are needed to send in for the accommodations? Where do I go to get these done and what is that process like?

These questions (and more) will be addressed in my next article. Stay tuned!