Seek out support as early as possible.
Children who have been diagnosed with a learning disability or a medical issue that affects their learning, or who currently receive testing accommodations such as extended time or use of a computer at school, should start thinking early in high school about applying for accommodations for the SAT or ACT. 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. His parents discussed Joey’s concerns with 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. Fortunately, last summer ACT announced a streamlining of the process to request accommodations–those students who have a current IEP or 504 plan now are more quickly approved without the need for a waiting period or burdensome additional paperwork. The SAT continues to request documentation not only of the disability but also the history of the use of the accommodation at school.
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.) that may impact their ability to demonstrate their knowledge on a standardized test, be sure to check the situation out as soon as it arises.
The right test accommodations can be essential to a student’s success.
How does my child apply for testing accommodations?
- The SAT will require documentation of the disability through recent neuropsychological and educational testing. In some situations, a report from a medical professional will be sufficient. In either situation, the reports should include a diagnosis. For those seeking accommodations for the ACT who do not have an IEP or 504 plan, similar documentation must be provided.
- Apply early. If planning to take the first SAT tests in the fall or winter of junior year, apply by the spring of sophomore year. For the ACT, the student must register for a specific test date so apply as soon as the preferred test date registration opens. This overview will explain how to register for the ACT with accommodations.
- The high school’s disability Coordinator (“SSD Coordinator” for SAT and “TAA or Test Coordinator” for ACT) will submit the necessary documentation online. Allow up to 7 weeks for a response for the SAT and 2 weeks on the ACT (once all proper documentation has been received).
- For the SAT and College Board, once accommodations are granted, they remain in place until one year after high school graduation and also apply to PSAT and AP exams. Once approved for accommodations for the ACT there is no need to request them again for subsequent sittings of the test–the student just registers for a test date.
- 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). Fifty 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. Once the SAT moves to the digital test in 2024, these policies with change.
Understand the pros and cons of accommodations
Be careful what you ask for. For 50 percent extended time on both the ACT and the SAT, students are allotted 50% more time for each section. For the SAT, this makes the total time four hours and 30 minutes, and for the ACT (without writing) three hours and 40 minutes. . The student cannot leave early or move on to the next section of the test until the allotted time is up. For some students (especially those with ADHD) this may be too long to sit still. Students should be sure they truly need the additional time because the length of the test may hamper their ability to do well on the test.
Request accommodations only if warranted
Finally, accommodations are available for students with legitimate learning or physical 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.