Applying for Testing Accommodations: START EARLY!
If your child has ever been diagnosed with a learning disability or a medical issue that affects their learning or currently receives accommodations such as extended time or use of a computer at school, then start thinking early about applying for accommodations for the SAT or ACT. The most important message is Start Early! Starting early means 9th or 10th grade.
Case Study: Realizing The Need Late In High School
Consider Joey’s story. He was a hard-working, first-born student in a private school with small classes and strong faculty support. Since middle school, he had been telling his parents that he had trouble staying focused in class and when studying. They asked his advisor who felt that Joey was doing “fine.” The advisor’s view was that Joey’s grades were good enough, so why go down this path?
When Joey entered junior year, his coursework intensified and he sat for the PSAT. He could not complete the test in the time allotted. This realization, along with the struggles he had been experiencing in school, made him appeal more strongly to his parents. His parents scrambled, had him evaluated by a neuropsychologist and when the results were presented in January of his junior year, Joey had a clear diagnosis of ADHD and a substantially limited reading rate. He felt validated and while he was able to begin receiving accommodations for extended time at school, it was too late to qualify for SAT or ACT accommodations. College Board and ACT expect that students are routinely using accommodations at school before applying for standardized testing accommodations. In Joey’s case, he applied but was denied because the extra time accommodation had not been in place at school long enough. Historically, College Board and ACT have been more likely to approve accommodations if they have been in place for at least four months.
Joey’s situation is not an isolated case. We see such scenarios all the time. Usually the students notice something off in their learning profile and maybe the parents do too, but it does not seem urgent until they feel the heat of junior year and standardized tests.
If you suspect your child might have an underlying learning issue or medical problem (vision, hearing, etc.), be sure to check the situation out as soon as it arises.
How does my child apply for accommodations?
- Be sure your child’s neuropsychological/educational or other relevant testing is up to date (less than five years old for SAT and less than three for ACT) and includes a diagnosis. Be sure that your child is actively receiving whatever accommodation he/she requests at school and has been for at least four months.
- Apply early. If planning to take first tests in fall or winter of junior year, apply by spring of sophomore year. Once accommodations are granted, they last through the student’s high school years.
- The official request for accommodations will come from the high school’s Disability Coordinator (“SSD Coordinator” for College Board and “TAC” for ACT). He/she will submit necessary documentation online. Allow about seven weeks for the SAT response and six weeks for ACT.
- Note, as of January 2017, the College Board allows the SSD Coordinator to pre-approve accommodations requests if the student is receiving similar testing accommodations in school (ie, has an IEP or 504 that has been in place for at least 4 months). This bypasses a lengthy documentation review by the College Board. ACT still wants to review documentation for all cases.
- Allow time for an appeal. Your request may be denied at first but appeals are common. Perhaps they need more documentation from current teachers, an updated letter from a physician, etc.
What accommodations are offered?
Both the SAT and the ACT offer a variety of options that are based on the findings of the neuropsychological evaluation and educational testing, medical report or IEP/504 plans. They may include a quiet room, a reader or scribe, enlarged print, use of a computer, more frequent or longer breaks, and extended time. When applying, you need to request one or more specific accommodation(s). 50 percent extended time is the most common request. When students take the SAT or ACT 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.
Note any accommodations granted by the College Board cover not only the SAT but AP exams and Subject tests as well.
Understand the Pros and Cons
Be careful what you ask for. For 50 percent extended time on the SAT with Writing, each section is increased and the total time is five hours and forty-five minutes. The student cannot leave early or switch from one section to another before the time allotted has passed. For some students (especially those with ADHD) this is too long to sit still. A quiet room and more frequent or longer breaks might be a better accommodation on the SAT. Students move from section to section of the test as directed by the proctor.
On the other hand, the ACT’s 50 percent extended time option is self-paced. The student can spend as long as needed on each section as long as the entire test is completed within the allotted time of six hours for ACT with Writing (5 hours for the main test, 1 hour for the essay). In this way, this accommodation both eases the intense time pressure of the ACT and helps students choose how to divide their time most effectively.
For students with a poor sense of time, the open-ended option can be challenging. Drew Heilpern, general manager at Summit Educational Group (mytutor.com) in Newton, MA says, “Once granted extended time on the ACT, students should practice taking the test, determine which sections provide the most challenge and go into test day with a specific plan of how to manage their time.” Heilperin explains that the student might plan to use 65 minutes for Math, 90 minutes for English, 50 minutes for Reading, 70 for Science and 70 for Writing. The breakdown would depend on the student’s areas of strength and weakness.
Request Only If Warranted
Finally, accommodations are available for students with legitimate learning disabilities or medical issues. Do not think of the process as a way to give your student a “leg up” when taking the SAT or ACT. The application process is thorough and strict. Absolutely advocate for your student if there is a sound reason. Start early and be thoughtful about the specific accommodations that would best benefit your child