Controversy has existed for years around the subject of SAT and ACT accommodations, and that controversy seems to revolve around three critical themes: 1) Equity—Are all deserving students receiving fair access to SAT and ACT accommodations? 2) Legitimacy—Are the accommodations the right ones for the specific diagnoses? 3) Validity—Do these SAT and ACT accommodations truly accommodate the disabling conditions or rather do they modify the exam, undermining its standardization? Equity. Equity is a serious matter: A 2000 California audit concluded that those getting SAT or ACT accommodations "were disproportionately white, or were more likely to come from an affluent family or to attend a private school." More than a decade later, the Chicago Tribune's review of data obtained under open records laws indicated in Illinois that the percentage of test takers with accommodations doubled the national average. Schools in wealthy districts with predominantly white students were at the top of the list. Where there is wealth, there is an elevated level of advocacy and subsequently elevated levels of SAT or ACT accommodations. That trend indicates that while accommodations are intended to level the playing field for disabled students, the administration of those accommodations is not working out equitably by socioeconomic factors. Legitimacy. An interesting criticism on the legitimacy of accommodations has been offered by Boston University professor Ari Trachtenberg is his Sept. 2016 Chronicle of Higher Ed piece “ADA in the Classroom: Suitable Accommodation or Legalized Cheating?” He argues principally that there is a lack of research evidence for the connection between an accommodation and the disability. “In effect, both the College Board and some colleges (which base their own policies for accommodations around the board’s practices) appear to be providing an advantage to some students on rigorously controlled tests, without a rigorous foundation for the accommodation.” At the heart of his argument, again, is the matter of time. He sees the granting of extended time as a one-size-fits-all concession The College Board, ACT, and universities make without a specific rationale for the merits of that accommodation in relation to the specific disability in question: “Accommodations must be specific to circumstances, and transparently published for specific disabilities, just like grading rubrics and curves. It may be convenient for both the universities and the students to indiscriminately agree to simple accommodations such as time extension for a whole host of disabilities in prima facie compliance with the ADA, but this dilutes the integrity of the academic process without providing a definable benefit, either to those students who are disabled, or to those who are not.” Trachtenberg’s premise is that time matters: he values some speeded component of his tests, and so accommodating that component—unless rigorously justified—could modify the validity of his exams. Validity. Trachtenberg’s line of reasoning is taken to a logical extreme by Bruce Pardy of Queen’s University Faculty of Law in his August 2016 Education and Law Journal article “Head Starts and Extra Time: Academic Accommodation on Post-Secondary Exams and Assignments for Cognitive and Mental Disabilities.” Pardy argues [...]
“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 [...]
The Illinois April 5th state-mandated SAT is now six weeks away. With all Illinois public school students sitting for that SAT, we want to offer a series of weekly insights along the way to help you prepare. This week’s focus: are your students getting in enough reading rounds? We understand the value of getting in enough rounds when it comes to a sport like boxing. For a title fight, if you want to “go the distance,” that means conditioning yourself to fight for 12 3-minute rounds, 36 total minutes of demanding physical exertion. Obviously, if you get in only 8 to 10 rounds in your training, you’d be poorly prepared, and outcomes will most likely be poor. If you appreciate the value of conditioning, then, like many boxing experts, you don’t take very seriously Conor McGregor, the UFC’s reigning champion, and his recent bid to take on Floyd Mayweather Jr., the greatest boxer of the last 25 years. As an MMA athlete, McGregor fights for 3 or 5 5-minute rounds, 15 to 25 total minutes of output, while Mayweather for the last 7 of his 49 fights has gone the distance of 36 minutes and won every time. How can you beat Mayweather’s experience in enduring that vital 11 to 21 extra minutes of intense fighting? I think you can’t. Let’s extend our MMA/boxing analogy to reading. Illinois public high school students for the past 15 years have all sat for a 35-minute ACT reading section on the state-mandated ACT in the spring of junior year. In School Year 2016-17, that ACT has changed to the SAT, and “going the distance” means something entirely new. The Redesigned SAT features a 65-minute reading section, and the number of passages has grown from 4 to 5. So, our reading gladiators have entered a new arena, and the endurance requirement of their sport has changed: a reading rumble that involved 4 rounds of approximately 9 minutes of reading on the ACT has now transformed to 5 rounds of 13 minutes of reading on the SAT. Students need to adjust to 30 continuous extra minutes of intense focus on comprehending complex texts. This challenge raises some important questions: How are our students training? Are they getting in enough reading rounds? How long do your students sit for and read complex texts? And let me specify: without interruption! With average class lengths of about 50 minutes, it is most likely that during the school day students have no comparable experience of reading and reasoning continuously for 65 minutes. In the weeks prior to the April 5th SAT, how can we intensify the training? A practice test to simulate the exact reading conditions of the test; offering more in-class reading activities that simulate timed 13-minute rounds of reading bursts to prepare for the passage-by-passage experience; full class period reading activities that train focus and endurance and comprehension. As educators, we know that mindless drilling does not lead to improvement and repetition alone does not lead to [...]
The high-stakes nature of college entrance exams is, unsurprisingly, a tough moment for many students. This feeling of dread isn’t inevitable—there’s more we as educators can do to make this moment one of triumph, not despair. That means not just preparing our students for the skills assessed on the test, but also preparing them for the emotional challenge of preparing for high-stakes tests.
How can you, as an educator, make the most of each assessment your students complete? The answer is in the data the assessments provide. By carefully analyzing the data, educators can take full advantage of each test event to determine student strengths and areas for improvement, develop targeted re-teaching plans, and drive instruction in the classroom.