The Challenges of Seeking Test Accommodations

As we come into the standardized test season (think SSAT, SAT, ERB, ACT, etc.), some parents of learning disabled and ADHD students worry that their child’s accommodations from school will not be recognized or accepted by the College Board or other testing service.  This concern is justified.  One cannot take for granted that services received in any educational environment will automatically transfer to other situations.  Parents need to understand that there are no guarantees.  Still, successfully receiving accommodations is possible if you follow these guidelines.

First, a student must have received accommodations in their current educational setting for at least 6 months.  If your son or daughter has never been evaluated before but his/her teachers have provided what they felt was appropriate for the student to achieve success, they may still be eligible with the right paperwork.  Just remember that the College Board will not honor a last minute request for test accommodations if your child has never received them in school before.  There can be exceptions, such as if a child recently suffered a medical condition that is well documented.  Still, that means she/he has also received those accommodations at school, and there will be information on that as well.

Second, make sure you have appropriate documentation.  The school guidance counselor has paperwork to fill out to request your child’s accommodations, and that will include evidence that the school has honored your requests in the past based on data, such as a psychoeducational evaluation, a doctor’s evaluation, etc.  If your child has been tested in the past, make sure the testing is no more than 3 years old.  If your child has never been formally evaluated, get the testing done as soon as you are able.

Third, and this leads to a critical piece of the puzzle, the College Board requires 6 week minimum to review the paperwork submitted by the guidance counselor.  Most evaluations take several weeks because the professional must conduct testing and write a report.  Then the report must be given to the guidance counselor, who needs time to incorporate this information into the required paperwork.  Thus, working backwards, a parent must allow 4 months (and in some cases more than that) before the actual expected test date to get the appointments needed for any evaluations to be conducted.  I cannot stress this enough.  When making appointments, please be realistic, or you will frustrate yourself, your child, and the professionals with whom you work.

Fourth, even if you submit all necessary information, your request may be denied.  There is an appeals process.  I always suggest to parents with a strong case (even if the documentation is not strong) that they take advantage of the appeals process.  This may include getting some updated testing, but it can be worth it.  I have even had parents hire an attorney in situations that seemed particularly unfair (such as a student who suffered a head injury and needed time to read test questions).  It is not that the College Board is deliberately trying to sabotage your child’s future–they are concerned that students might take unfair advantage of the situation and get an “edge” over their peers.  Philosophically, I can argue with them about that forever, but realistically I have to accept that position.  If you believe that your daughter or son really needs the additional time, a quiet room, the use of a computer, or whatever accommodations you feel he/she needs, then appeal.

I will conclude by reminding parents that there are no guarantees.  The College Board or other testing agencies have the final say in how they administer their products.  However, that does not preclude success.  Many schools and colleges recognize that not all students perform well on standardized exams even if their classroom grades are very good.  These tests are only one piece of a very large puzzle.  Your child’s application success also rests on teacher recommendations, a strong essay, and other skills and talents they have.  Ten years from now, no one will worry what their SAT scores were!  Finally, many schools and colleges waive the requirement of standardized test scores as part of the application process if the student has sufficient data in the forms of course work, jobs or summer enrichment experiences related to a possible career path, and/or community college courses that may have been completed.  For students applying to college, check out http://www.fairtest.org for a list of those post-secondary schools that do not require standardized test scores as part of the application process.  You will see a fair number of competitive schools on that list!  And no, your decision to omit such scores will not be a factor in their decision to accept your child or not.  The competition for slots not withstanding, many schools recognize the complexity of individual skills and abilities, and thus will judge your child on other factors if no scores are submitted.

The Challenges of Seeking Test Accommodations

Where Do I Begin?

Many times when parents call, it is immediately apparent that they do not know where to begin.  Do they need an evaluation, and if so what type of evaluation?  Do they need to find a different school?  Does their child need an IEP?  And what is the difference between an IEP and a 504?  Do they need an advocate, a lawyer, a therapist. . .and where do they go from there?!

Sometimes the best thing is to begin at the beginning.  A good first step is to find an experienced Educational Consultant, an experienced Educational Advocate, or an experienced Educational Psychologist familiar with students who have complex learning and/or emotional profiles.  You want to find a professional who can help you navigate not only what your child needs, but what is available.  Each state has different guidelines when you are working with the public sector, so if you are working within your public school system, make sure the professional with whom you consult is familiar with both federal and state laws as they pertain to your needs and has experience working with public schools in your state.  If you can afford to work with the private sector, make sure the professional with whom you consult is familiar with a wide range of services both in and out of your state so you can find the best options for your child and your family.

Each professional has different skills and expertise, and an ethical professional will let you know if your child’s needs are beyond their knowledge (and/or require additional supports they may have to research).  No one knows everything!  But a well-trained and experienced professional knows a lot!  So before you begin, you may want to ask some of the following questions:

  • What types of services do you provide?
  • What is the difference between (whatever it is you want to know) and (whatever else it is you need to know!)?
  • Do you work on an hourly basis or a flat rate, and what are your rates?
  • What can I expect to receive working with you?

          During your time with your chosen professional, there may be the need for additional input (such as from a lawyer) or you may need to add someone to your child’s “team” (such as a therapist).  In any event, you have to begin somewhere, so begin with someone who can sift through information to let you know what your options are.

          Ask your friends, coworkers, or family members for names of trusted professionals with whom they have worked.  You may also want to check out some of these resources to find a professional in your area:

Where Do I Begin?