Start Early: Applying for Test Accommodations

Rebecca Kenney If your child has ever been diagnosed with a learning disability or a medical issue that affects his 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 ninth 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 the path of considering an educational evaluation?

Some students who struggle with standardized testing may need accommodations.

When Joey entered junior year, his coursework intensified and he sat for the PSAT. That is when he realized that he needed help and he advocated more strongly for testing. 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 start receiving accommodations for extended time at school, it was late to apply for SAT or ACT accommodations. He applied but because the extra time and other supports had not been implemented at school until the middle of his junior year, both the College Board and ACT denied the request. Be Aware: Four-Month Wait Period What many students and parents do not realize is that accommodations must be in place and used at school routinely for at least a four-month period before applying to the College Board (which administers the SAT and AP exams) or to ACT. 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 begin to get standardized test results during junior year. 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. Then take the following steps:
  • Be sure your child’s neuropsychological and educational or other relevant testing is up-to-date (less than five years old for SAT and less than three for ACT).
  • 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. He will submit necessary documentation (online for College Board/SAT and via paper for ACT). Allow about seven weeks for the SAT response and four weeks for ACT.
  • Allow time because your request may be denied at first but appeals are common. Perhaps they need more documentation from current teachers confirming that the student uses the accommodation routinely.
In order to apply for ACT accommodations, your student must register online for a test date and submit the application via the high school. 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 or medical report. 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 accommodations. 50% extended time is the most common request.

Students might be reluctant to ask for help.

Understand the Pros and Cons Be careful what you ask for. For 50% extended time on the SAT, each section is increased and the total time is five hours, three minutes (this is for the current SAT, not the New SAT which will begin in March 2016). 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% extended time option is open-ended. The student can spend as long as needed on each section as long as the entire test is completed within the allotted time of five hours, 45 minutes (for ACT with Writing). For example, a student could spend two hours on the English section and 40 minutes on Math. For students with a poor sense of time, the open-ended option can be challenging. Drew Heilpern, general manager at Summit Educational Group 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.

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