Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Important SAT and ACT Changes on Accommodations

The College Board has announced important changes to they way they determine testing accommodations for students with disabilities, effective January 1, 2017.

The new policy will apply to students who have IEPs or 504 Plans and to private school students with a formal, school-based plan. It requires school testing accommodation coordinators to ask only two questions when submitting most requests for student accommodations:
  • Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student’s plan? and
  • Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?
If the answer is yes to both questions, eligible students can be approved to receive most accommodations on College Board exams. These exams include the SAT, PSAT, NMSQT, SAT subject tests and AP exams.

The College Board president, David Coleman, noted in an announcement of this change that, “The school staff knows their students best, and we want to cut down on the time and paperwork needed to submit a testing accommodations request.” That may be true, but steps by the U.S. Department of Justice to make sure the testing organizations comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act were undoubtedly also a factor in the College Board decision. We wrote about this back in 2015, including links to the Justice Department guidelines. Earlier in 2016, the Justice Department began an inquiry into testing accommodations following a number of complaints. 

Another policy change by both the College Board and the ACT exam involves students who are English Language Learners (ELL). 

For the first time, the ACT exam will offer accommodations to ELL who are enrolled in a school's ELL program, starting in the fall of 2017. These will include:
  • More time on the test: up to time-and-a-half
  • Use of an approved word-to-word bilingual glossary (one that has no word definitions)
  • Testing in a non-distracting environment (i.e., in a separate room)
  • Test instructions provided in the student's native language (including Spanish and a limited number of other languages initially)
Similar accommodations will be made available effective starting in January 2017 (although extended time will not be available until later that year) by the College Board for its exams given to enrolled ELL students taking state funded exams in school. 

Tips for Students
Students, parents, and schools need to keep in mind that these new paths to accommodations are not foolproof. The College Board uses terms like "most" when referring to students with disabilities and the accommodations to be extended. 

Furthermore, as with their prior process for approving accommodations, it is important that these are not just listed in an IEP or 504 Plan, but are used on a regular basis. Students who have extended time on exams, for example, need to utilize this accommodation if they want to have it applied to their standardized testing. 

To be applicable to the SAT and other exams, accommodations must be formalized. An IEP or 504 Plan will do this. So will a private school's formal written plan. But extended time or other accommodations given informally by teachers or even school-wide without a formal plan will not qualify for this streamlined review. 

Likewise, the accommodations offered to ELL do not necessarily apply to all of these students. The College Board will extend its streamlined accommodations process only to ELL taking a state-funded SAT during the school day. It is not clear how this might apply to all ELL. 

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