Tests like the ACT and SAT are considered standardized because all students are tested on the same concepts and skills and performance is compared against large numbers of students. This makes requesting and securing accommodations for documented learning, mental, or physical disabilities very important, as these will ensure you’re able to perform to your highest ability.
Navigating the accommodations process can be confusing, so in April 2019, we interviewed accommodations advocate and expert, Michele Sass, on the topic. Now, nearly two years later, we meet up with Michele once again. In this article, Michele answers some additional questions and shares how some of these processes have changed since we last talked.
Q: Did the pandemic or our nation's response to it create any changes relevant to students seeking accommodations in the standardized testing process?
SASS: One unfortunate trend I noticed from College Board (SAT) and ACT is that it is seemingly more difficult to get accommodations approved, especially if they are not applied for correctly the first time.
Therefore, it is really important that the school applies for the student’s accommodations correctly and with all necessary current full evaluations and additional substantiation to support the request.
Unfortunately, too often a school initially applies for accommodations by simply copying those accommodations that are on the student’s IEP, Section 504, or private school accommodations plan, leading students and parents to assume that they are all set for the SAT and ACT exams.
In these situations, the school has done so without taking the “standardized test environment” of these high stakes exams and their duration, as well as the student’s full picture into account.
Q: What are some examples of “standardized test specific” accommodations that are not typically on a student’s IEP or 504 Plan and therefore should be applied for?
SASS: Here are a few examples:
A student with dyslexia should be allowed to circle the correct answer in the test booklet, and have a scribe to bubble in their response onto the answer sheet.
A student is seeing a psychiatrist and is on medication for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but neither the parent nor student has shared that information with the school. Therefore, the student may be eligible for extended time due to the high stakes nature and duration of the test.
A student has recently suffered a concussion and is showing symptoms, but perhaps the school counselor in charge of applying for accommodations is not aware. In types of cases, a student may qualify for extended time, multiple day testing and other accommodations, whereby they may not otherwise need accommodations.
Q: Not everybody needs an expert accommodations advocate. What are the situations that are fairly straightforward, and on the other hand, what are some kinds of complications that would make reaching out to you a great idea?
SASS: As I mentioned earlier, and I can’t say it often enough, there are many accommodations that are “standardized test environment specific” that should be applied for.
I conduct a free ½ hour consult with all perspective clients to identify what’s “missing” that the student needs and to determine if I can be of assistance in obtaining those accommodations.
When I take the time to speak with my clients, I often find that students with a learning disability or other type of disability often have other conditions, whether they be medical or otherwise.
During my intake with parents, I ask questions that will help to determine any other underlying conditions that should be factored into the student's accommodations list.
Q: Is it true that the ACT and SAT have different procedures/processes for granting accommodations, and that sometimes a student can be offered generous accommodations by one and very limited or no accommodations by the other? Can you explain why this happens and what a family should do if they find themselves in the situation?
SASS: Yes, they are two different testing entities and sometimes one will grant the all the needed accommodations of a student and the other testing entity will not.
If you find that one will not grant the student’s needed accommodations, I recommend drafting an appeal, which I can help with. I do find that if all the necessary documentation is obtained and all the evaluations are thorough and recent, and the request for accommodations is done correctly and completely the first time, with both ACT and SAT, they are more likely to be granted.
For SAT testing, the accommodations can and should be applied for, in my opinion, before 9th grade (in time for PSAT).ACT accommodations can only be applied for when the student actually registers to take the test, usually in 11th grade.
Q: How else can you help with the process of applying for accommodations?
SASS: I help my clients by reviewing all the student's evaluations and with their permission, communicate with the doctors, specialists, therapists, etc. in order to reach alignment on which accommodations are warranted. I then submit rough drafts to the doctors to assist them with providing a separate letter to substantiate the accommodation.
Additionally, I make sure that every piece of paper that the College Board sees, has all the same recommended accommodations. I view this process as a team approach between the specialists, the parents, the students, the school and myself and by doing so, I have a proven track record of obtaining the accommodations that the student needs.
Q: In our conversations, we have always focused on high school students seeking accommodations on ACT or SAT. Is the seeking of accommodations for standardized test something that’s relevant at different levels? For example, the Independence School Entrance Exam (ISCE), LSAT, GRE, etc.?
SASS: This is a very important question, and I certainly recommend that any 8th grader who is going to sit for the Independent School Entrance Exam) ISEE obtain the “standardized testing accommodations” that they need. I can help determine what those accommodations should be. I make sure that the documentation is current, thorough and properly written. Therefore, it is more likely that accommodations will be granted, which is why I have a proven track record with my clients.”
The most important thing to know regarding Graduate School Entrance Exams is that most of the Graduate school testing entities will agree to grant the accommodations that were previously granted by College Board and/or ACT. I tell my clients to put their accommodation approval letters for the SAT/ACT in a safe place so that they can be used in the future when a student is applying for accommodations for LSAT, GRE’s or even professional licensing exams. They can also be used to document the student’s needs for college academics and testing.
Q: If my student is not planning on taking the SAT or ACT exam as they are optional for the schools they are applying to, is there anything I need to know?
SASS: Great question! If your student is not planning on taking the SAT or ACT exams, and is taking AP classes, they will still need to apply for accommodations through College Board. This is something that a lot of people don’t realize. Also, it is important for students who may need 100% extended time to also apply for multiple day testing, while the SAT is automatically broken into 2 days for these students, some AP exams are not.
Even if your student is not taking the SAT or AP classes, it cannot hurt to apply for accommodations for SAT, as the accommodations that are granted can carry over as substantiation for future college, graduate school and licensing exams.
Have more questions or need help applying for testing accommodations?
Michele Sass, and any advocate, employee or independent contractor, working with M. Sass Consulting, LLC, is not a practicing attorney and does not provide legal advice or legal services. Furthermore, M. Sass Consulting, LLC or anyone working with or representing M. Sass Consulting, LLC cannot, and does not guarantee any specific outcome.