Thursday, September 24, 2015

New Guidance on Testing Accommodations

Standardized exams -- SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, and others -- are  "gateways to educational and employment opportunities" and the entities that offer these tests are to required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to offer these exams in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities.

The ADA came into being in 1990 and was amended in 2008 in an effort by Congress to overturn the impact of several judicial decisions that narrowed its intended scope. New Regulations implementing the revised ADA were adopted in 2010.

Despite the revised regulations, there has continued to be resistance on the part of testing agencies, especially the Law School Admissions Council, which oversees the LSAT, to  extending accommodations to students with disabilities. Even where there has been no pattern of resistance to offering accommodations, confusion about what should be offered and to whom has raised questions for schools, testing agencies, and students.

 The Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has noted that they continue "to receive questions and complaints relating to excessive and burdensome documentation demands, failures to provide needed testing accommodations, and failures to respond to requests for testing accommodations in a timely manner."

In response to these questions and complaints, the Department of Justice has just released new guidelines for testing accommodations.  Among the highlights of this document are the following:

  • A person with a history of academic success may still be a person with a disability who is entitled to testing accommodations under the ADA
  • Any documentation if required by a testing entity in support of a request for testing accommodations must be reasonable and limited to the need for the requested testing accommodations
  • Proof of past testing accommodations in similar test settings is generally sufficient to support a request for the same testing accommodations for a current standardized exam or other high-stakes test
  • An absence of previous formal testing accommodations does not preclude a candidate from receiving testing accommodations
  • Testing entities should defer to documentation from a qualified professional who has made an individualized assessment of the candidate that supports the need for the requested testing accommodations. A testing entity should generally accept such documentation and provide the recommended testing accommodation without further inquiry
Every student who anticipates taking a standardized test, every educator and administrator who works with such students, and every testing service that administers such tests should take the time to carefully review these guidelines. They are clear, concise, and very specific about what they do -- and do not -- require. 

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