Consider this scenario: Andrea has a language-based learning disability first diagnosed in third grade. She received academic support services from a reading specialist until age 11. As she entered ninth grade, she had mastered reading strategies and her team felt she no longer required services under an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Andrea’s parents, however, were concerned that she would not be able to finish high school exams because she reads very slowly.
“Don’t worry,” the school representative reassured them. “Everyone who needs extra time for tests in the high school receives it whether they have a diagnosed learning difference or not.”
And this was in fact true. Teachers routinely granted extra time to Andrea and by the end of sophomore year she had earned a solid 3.5 GPA in a selection of both honors and college preparatory classes.
However, when Andrea sat for the PSAT in October of junior year, she quickly realized she couldn’t finish any section of the test in the allotted time. She had not applied for an extended time accommodation through the College Board, which administers the PSAT, the SAT and AP exams. It had been six years since she had any educational testing and that documentation was now too dated to furnish to the College Board. Further, since Andrea has been declassified as having a learning disability and was not covered under a 504 plan, she was no longer deemed eligible in the eyes of the College Board for consideration of accommodations.
It was now December of junior year. Andrea knew that she would not be as strong a candidate at several of the colleges on her list with her current SAT scores. She kept thinking, “If I could just complete the test, I know my scores would improve.” With several siblings, Andrea also understood that any chance for receiving a merit scholarship would be greatly enhanced with higher test scores, and she wanted to do everything she could to help her parents pay for college.
Andrea’s parents had to scramble and find a professional who could administer the required tests, write a report and get it to the high school so they could send it on to College Board with her accommodation request by the designated deadline. The outside evaluator was expensive, but it all worked out in the end. Andrea was approved shortly before the May SAT date, took the exam and found out by the end of the month that she had increased an average of 150 points on each section of the test, just by virtue of having completed them.
What are the lessons learned from Andrea’s experience?
- If your child is declassified from an IEP, be sure to have a 504 plan put in place if he or she still requires any kind of accommodation, even if the school willingly provides the accommodations without documentation.
- Apply for accommodations in 9th grade. The approval will stay with the student for all College Board-administered exams throughout high school. For College Board testing documentation should not be more than five years (three years for the ACT). Note that ACT has a different policy where students must apply prior to each test.
- Don’t game the system. These recommendations are for students who truly have a diagnosed disability or other qualifying condition, not for someone ineligible who is attempting to gain an advantage.
- Each disability or condition has unique requirements for documentation. For instance, if students don’t routinely use extended time during the school year they will not likely be approved for it on the SAT as they don’t likely need it. A complete description of the requirements for a range of disabilities and conditions can be found at http://professionals.collegeboard.com/testing/ssd and for the ACT at http://www.act.org/aap/disab/index.html
- Plan ahead by looking at documentation requirements well before junior year.