The College Board, which administers the SAT and PSAT, and the ACT organization offer the opportunity for disabled students or their parents to request reasonable accommodations for testing. Specific test dates are usually designated for students who require accommodations, so make sure you check out dates and deadlines for paperwork and registration well ahead of time. Your child's school counseling office should have this information available.
Test prep should take accommodations into account
There are many ways that test administrators can accommodate your child's needs, but in general, special arrangements are typically made in regard to any of the following factors: time, physical arrangements, test administrator, or test materials.
Be sure to take these accommodations into account with your child's test preparation. He or she should experience the conditions of the actual test when practicing for the test.
- Time: If your child needs additional time to take the SAT or ACT, the allotted test time can be officially extended by 50 percent. Extended time limits include additional breaks and rest periods. Testing can also take place over more than one day or at a specific time of day, if necessary.
- Physical arrangements: If your child needs special physical arrangements, such as a table under which a wheelchair would fit or different lighting, arrangements can be made. Fluorescent lights often impact students with visual impairments and a distraction-free room can probably be provided. Testing can also be made available in a small group setting or you may request specific seating, if needed.
- Test administrator: You or your school official can request an alternative test administrator and specify who that should be. In many cases, the alternative administrator may be your child's counselor or a teacher consultant. Sometimes, the way a test proctor relates to students may be integral to their overall success on the test. Some students may even be able to complete testing at their own school.
- Test materials: The standard test booklets and answer sheets are unusable by many disabled students and large-block test booklets and answer sheets are available. They are also on hand in Braille, large and regular type, and on cassettes. You may be able to request that someone reads the tests to your child, manually translates, or fills out the forms on his or her behalf. Sign language interpreters are also available if needed.
Accomodations for written portions of exams
It's a bit tougher to get approval for a student to use a computer for the written portion of an exam, but under certain circumstances, your child may be allowed to do so. You should be prepared to provide ample documentation to support your request, including detailed information about your child's condition, how it limits his or her testing abilities, and a rationale for requesting computer accommodation.
If you are granted this accommodation, remember to account for it in your child's test preparation plans.
If your child has illegible handwriting but no disability to justify it, you won't be able to get permission to use a computer. There are three main areas in which students usually have disabilities that will qualify. All of them require ample documentation of a significant and diagnosed disability.
- Physically disabled: If your child has a handicap or disability that permanently prevents use of his or her dominant hand or arm, accommodations will probably be allowed. However, your submitted documentation needs to include a professional evaluation of the disability, including a full history of the problem and copies of any medical exams. All documents should include the dates they were administered and the name, credentials, license number, address, and phone number of the examiners.
- Dysgraphia: This disability only qualifies for computer accommodation if you can document that your child has fine motor problems that affect his or her writing skills. For your child to qualify, medical or academic documents that support a diagnosis of fine motor problems need to be submitted. Some tests that are commonly used to diagnose a specific fine motor problem include the Beery Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration (VMI), or the Broad Writing Cluster of Woodcock Johnson III.
- Severe language-based learning disability: These conditions can be a bit tougher to identify, but cognitive and academic testing should support a diagnosed disability and specify its severity, as well. Other documents should provide a thorough history of your child's disability and a description of how your child's learning skills are limited, particularly in written expression
Specify your testing accommodation needs
The variety of accommodations allowed for disabled students, including the methods used to record answers, is increasing as more students with disabilities take the tests. Presently, students can write or type their answers or can have someone else write their answers.
If you need this or any other type of accommodations, make sure you are specific in your requests — your child's school needs to order these aids at the time the request for special accommodations is made. In addition, you'll need to know what accommodations you'll receive in order to implement the most relevant test prep plan for your child.
Check with testing agency for requirements and deadlines
Documentation guidelines are stringent and require specific professional documentation to substantiate your child's disability as well as your request for special accommodations. Make sure you check with the appropriate testing agency to see what exactly is required. Test dates are usually the same for everyone, but there are some additional deadlines for the eligibility paperwork, so make sure you and your child get them all on the calendar.
Test dates and documentation deadlines for the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams can be found at www.collegeboard.com/ssd/student/time.html. For the ACT, documentation needs to be in by the test registration deadline, but since it requires additional review to get approval for accommodations, the earlier your request gets in, the better.