Answering Your Questions on Accommodations for the SAT and ACT
As the Coordinator for Learning Services in the Upper School, part of my job is to support students in receiving appropriate accommodations on high stakes tests like the ACT and SAT. This is critically important for some of our students on their journey to college. Using my 19 years at McLean, and my knowledge of the ever- evolving changes from ACT and College Board, I’ve put together this overview to help families navigate accommodations.
What Are Accommodations and Why Might a Student Need Them On the ACT or SAT?
Accommodations are alterations in the environment, delivery, or format of the exam that allow students with diagnosed learning disabilities and/or learning challenges, like ADHD or dyslexia, to be on equal footing with other students. They don’t change the exam or give an unfair advantage, but rather “level the playing field” to make the test fair for everyone. The ACT and SAT offer accommodations such as extra time, audio versions of the test, word processor for essays (with spelling and grammar check functions disabled), etc.
How Are Accommodations Different for the ACT and SAT than They Are in School?
ACT and College Board are separate entities and don’t give the same accommodations that schools give. Here at McLean School, so much of what we consider to be good teaching includes integrating the kinds of supports that other schools consider accommodations right into the fabric of the classroom.
However, it is important to remember that just because your child receives this support or accommodations at school, it does not mean that they will automatically receive them on standardized college entrance exams. There is a separate process in place for each of the exam companies. They have their own set of standards, deadlines, and documentation that must be followed and the ultimate decision of who gets which accommodations rests with them.
What Will I Need In Order to Get Accommodations for the ACT and SAT?
ACT and College Board both have lists of required documentation and this depends on the accommodations being sought and the diagnosis. However, here are the basics:
- Diagnosis of a learning disability or other condition that interferes with learning/assessments.
- This should be from an appropriate, licensed professional and should be recent (ACT requires documentation to be no more than 3 years old).
- In many cases this comes in the form of psychoeducational or neuropsychoeducational testing. These involve a series of tests, evaluations, forms, checklists, and observations.
- Documentation that requested accommodations are being consistently used at school.
- If requesting extended time on standardized college entrance exams, there should be evidence that the student benefits from this in testing situations in school.
- School Learning plan or IEP. This often includes the accommodations mentioned above, but can be more comprehensive.
When Will I Need to Start?
ACT and College Board each have their own timelines for applying for accommodations. ACT gives two weeks minimum as long as you have all of the documents ready to go and College Board deadlines vary from about one to two months. However, it helps to have more time since sometimes initial requests are fully or partially denied, so having time to appeal decisions is helpful.
If retesting is needed, make sure to set aside plenty of time. That process can take time (weeks to months depending on testers schedules). Here are some things to keep in mind:
- To provide SAT and ACT accommodations, most colleges want testing after age 16, so whenever possible, wait to retest until after age 16.
- Educational testers who take insurance can have long waits. In the DC area, the waiting list for educational testers who take insurance is over one year, so plan ahead.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
Whether they will admit it or not, teenagers watch and listen to their parents and guardians (seriously!). They are aware of your attitudes and still seek your approval. Be aware of your own attitude toward SAT and ACT accommodations so that you are conscious of the messages you may be inadvertently sending about them. Children who feel confident in their abilities and understand that accommodations are tools that allow them to demonstrate those abilities to the world, are much more willing to use accommodations in school and on standardized tests.
– Karen Hundal, Upper School Coordinator of Learning Services