A Matter of Time: Extended-time ACT and SAT Accommodations

“I can’t believe I went up 12 points on the ACT! Cannot believe it.  Crying with happiness.  Wow!” After 20 years of helping students grow their ACT and SAT scores, finding an email like this at the top of my inbox still brings me the greatest joy.  More satisfying still is that this email came from a student with diagnosed learning disabilities, one who worked hard to develop critical reading and reasoning skills, applied for and earned extended-time accommodations, and was ultimately able to deliver that “show what you know” performance. Learning-disabled students—when given appropriate accommodations and instruction—are capable of remarkable growth.  What’s more, it appears to be, in part, a matter of time: ACT and SAT accommodations, such as extended time, can make that critical difference for these students.   ACT and SAT accommodations – what are they? ACT and SAT accommodations are provided by ACT and the College Board (SAT)—as well as primary, secondary, and postsecondary institutions—to test takers with disabilities or health-related needs.  ACT and SAT accommodations can range from extended-time to multiple-day testing to computer testing for essays to extra breaks for medication or snacks to a host of other concessions.    These accommodations are not designed to remove standardization, because that would undermine the validity of the test, but rather to make appropriate adjustments, given a student’s disabling conditions, that will provide an equal opportunity to demonstrate skills and knowledge. In other words, ACT and SAT accommodations are designed to give disabled students a fair chance to “show what they know.”   Who qualifies for ACT and SAT accommodations? The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and federal regulations under Section 504 extended civil rights protections to disabled people.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 required test publishers and administrators to provide reasonable accommodations for disabling conditions (Asquith and Feld, 1992). The disabilities that receive accommodations most frequently are learning disabilities, including dyslexia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other specific mental disorders.  While the range of learning disabilities in their variable combinations may require multiple accommodations, extended time is a frequent accommodation for students with learning disabilities. Extended time can provide a student with a visual sequencing disturbance more time to properly see letters and numbers, or a student with dyslexia the necessary time to read a test more slowly and comprehend more accurately. What steps do parents or guardians need to take in order for their child to receive ACT or SAT accommodations? Step 1: Determine Eligibility Eligibility for SAT accommodations requires that the disability must result in a relevant functional limitation.  For ACT accommodations, the disability must substantially limit a major life activity compared to the average person in the general population.  The longer the case has been documented, the more persuasive.  The more the student relies on the specific accommodations in school, i.e., uses the accommodations for in-school testing because they are truly needed, the more compelling.     Step 2: Gather Necessary Documentation Provide documentation that states the specific diagnosis, as captured [...]