The ACT and SAT are standardized tests, which means every student is tested on the same concepts and skills. These tests are standardized in order to compare the performance of large numbers of students. Making sure to secure testing accommodations for your documented learning, mental, or physical disability will ensure you’re able to perform to your highest ability on a standardized test.
In recent years, both the ACT and SAT have streamlined the process for requesting and securing accommodations. However, given the vast diversity of students seeking accommodations and the many forms of learning, mental, or physical disabilities, the process can be difficult to navigate. It’s critical that you begin this process as early as possible in order to enable time for any psychoeducational or neuropsychological testing that may be needed to diagnose, identify, and justify any accommodations. It is recommended that this process begin as early as 9th grade.
Even if you already receive testing or learning accommodations at school, through an IEP or 504 Plan, it is recommended that the IEP or 504 be amended, as early as possible, to include the specific test setting accommodations, that are applicable to standardized testing environment.
There are many accommodations available which will enable you to perform to the best of your ability. Both the College Board and ACT will request the high school to document that these accommodations are on the students educational plan (IEP or 504) and are being utilized by the student. Having these on the student’s educational plan will strongly increase the likelihood of them being granted by the College Board and ACT.
Expert Interview with Michele Sass:
To help you get started navigating this process, we caught up to Michele Sass, an accommodations advocate with a proven track record in assisting students in obtaining testing accommodations, and addressed all of your questions.
Aren’t my child’s accommodations already covered by the IEP or 504?
Sass: They can be, sure. But heartbreakingly often there are kids who miss out on the opportunity to let their true abilities shine on standardized tests because IEP’s and/or section 504 plans have not been written to include the necessary “test specific” accommodations that they are eligible for."
Why should I start this process early?
Sass: Starting early ensures that you have enough time to acquire and submit any and all documents, as well as file any necessary appeals. It is important to note that for both the SAT and ACT testing, it is strongly recommended that the accommodations also be added to the students IEP or 504 and be utilized by the student.
It is also important to note that for the ACT the documentation of any evaluations is valid for only three years (one year for psychiatric disorders). Another reason to start early is so that you obtain the accommodations for the PSAT and thus be eligible to perform at your highest potential thereby enabling the possible earning of merit scholarships.
Who is eligible for accommodations on ACT or SAT?
Sass: Some students with documented disabilities are eligible for accommodations on College Board exams.
Students cannot take the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, or AP Exams with accommodations unless their request for accommodations has been approved by Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD).
For the ACT, similar criteria exist and some examples of the types of disabilities that would be considered for accommodations are: Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Psychiatric Disorders (Mood or Anxiety, Serious and Persistent Mental Illness), Visual Impairment, Hearing Impairment, Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Speech and Language Disorders, and Medical Conditions (such as Traumatic Brain Injuries).
There are rules surrounding the types of documentation required to substantiate the diagnoses.
What types of accommodations are available?
Sass: There are many accommodations available, such as:
extended time (50% and 100% for reading and/or mathematical calculations)
multiple day testing
use of a scribe
use of a computer for essays
large print test booklet
record answers in test booklet (as opposed to answer sheet)
wheelchair accessible room
breaks as needed
alternate test formats such as braille, or the use of a reader or mp3 player or DVD
small group settings, private rooms, or preferential seating
auditory amplification/FM system
permission for food/medication, etc.
What if I am the parent of a child who I believe is having learning issues and is struggling in high school but they have not been diagnosed and therefore do not have an IEP or 504 plan?
Sass: I would recommend working with the school and consider private psychoeducational testing whereby a potentially undiagnosed learning disability could be identified. Many students with learning disabilities can compensate well in lower and middle school and “hit a wall” in high school, as the demands are greater. It is important that these be identified as early as possible in high school. I can assist in directing the family to a qualified Educational Psychologist who can test and assist in this process in an efficient and effective manner.
What accommodations should I apply for?
Sass: It is important to consider your disability and your needs for the standardized testing environment. I think that you will be surprised to see the different types of accommodations that are available, including some helpful ones, which you would not have considered. I can assist you in by identifying and recommending accommodations that are would be helpful to you.
For both the ACT and PSAT/SAT/AP tests, there is required documentation that must be submitted that supports the student’s need. It is imperative that this documentation is obtained as early in the process as possible.
How do I apply for accommodations?
Sass: For both the PSAT/SAT/AP tests and ACT tests, I recommend that the high school testing coordinator submit the request for accommodations, as they have the most experience in doing so. However, often, additional documentation is recommended, such as letters from doctors on letterhead, testing evaluation reports, etc., and is typically pulled together by the parent/student. I recommend that a cover letter also be included in the documentation, which summarizes the justification of the testing accommodations.
I can assist in both recommendations for substantiation and the drafting of the cover letter for the school. Again, this is advised, so that the substantiation packet and the need for the accommodations, is well explained. This could increase the likelihood of the accommodations being granted the first time, without having to appeal with additional documentation.
How long will this process take?
Sass: Once the documentation is assembled and the substantiation packet completed, the accommodations for PSAT/SAT and ACT can take up to 7 weeks to obtain. In the case that any accommodations are rejected and an appeal is required, additional time will be necessary in order to re-apply and obtain additional documentation. However, if a student does not currently have an educational plan or further evaluations are warranted, and either psychoeducational or medical evaluations are required, then the testing and obtaining the information from the doctors and assembling the substantiation packet will take additional time.
How can I incorporate my accommodations into my test prep?
Sass: I recommend doing so as much as possible, so as to simulate the testing environment, timing and test procedures, when you are preparing. You can request any practice test modifications from the College Board or ACT (i.e., large print practice tests).
I would also recommend seeking the support of a highly skilled tutor who has experience in working with students who need accommodations. I can assist in recommending some methodology in incorporating accommodations into the test prep.
Can I appeal an accommodations decision?
Sass: Yes, and my experience is that you may have to, which does take additional time. It is better to get all of your documentation together in the proper format the first time, so as to make the process go smoothly. I can assist in this process.
What do I do on test day?
Sass: Your school testing coordinator should advise you on this. Often, with students that require extended time, a reader, etc. will have individualized testing and may be testing at a different location.
Do my accommodations roll over to future test dates?
Can I apply my standardized testing accommodations to AP tests too?
Sass: College Board also handles accommodations for AP testing and there are some slight differences that should be accounted for and they should be applied for at the same time as the PSAT/SAT accommodations. For example, if a student has been granted the accommodation of 100% extended time, for the SAT, the test is automatically broken into two days. In some instances, depending on the length of the AP test, multiple day testing is not automatic and must be applied for as separate accommodation.
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.