May 23, 2024
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Is Your Child Eligible For Extended Time and School Accommodations?

Over the summer, I received a number of calls requesting an educational and/or ADHD evaluation. These requests came from frustrated college students and parents who felt that they or their children would perform better academically if they were granted school accommodations, such as extended time.

An accommodation is by definition something that not every student receives. In this sense, it may be considered “unfair.” However, LD/ADHD students who are requesting accommodations are not asking for an unfair advantage over their classmates. But they are at an unfair disadvantage because of their disabilities. Accommodations are meant to level the playing field and not to provide students with unreasonable breaks with regard to the curriculum or tests.

With statistics showing that over nine percent of children in New York and New Jersey meet the criteria for ADHD, students with learning disabilities or ADHD make up the bulk of students seeking special accommodations. While there once was a stigma with modifying test conditions such as receiving extended time, applications for modifications on the SATs and ACTs is at an all-time high. As a former school psychologist and guidance counselor, I have seen students who were approved for extended time on the SATs and not approved when it came to the ACTs.  Therefore, those seeking accommodations must demonstrate that their disability substantially limits their daily functioning and their ability to take the test. They must show that the accommodation that is requested fits their disability—extended time for a student with a reading disability, or breaks between tests for a student with poor attention.

Students must also prove that they have used similar accommodations in their school, even informally. The College Board’s assumption is that a student who does not need accommodations in school does not need them for the SATs or ACTs. These accommodations need to have been documented and be considered justifiable. A student who is given extra time at school but has not been given a legitimate diagnosis or has not been classified by a qualified professional, will not be granted accommodations.

The biggest red flag to the College Board is a late diagnosis. A student that is first diagnosed in college or late in high school tends to raise questions. This does not mean that accommodations won’t be granted. College students taking the GREs, LSATs, or MCATs can be granted accommodations for the first time, but it is up to the evaluator to explain why this particular student has progressed so far in school without being identified. This often requires a thorough knowledge of the nuances of learning disabilities, ADHD and child development.

School guidance staff are wise to advise parents to have their child evaluated early if it is felt that accommodations on standardized tests will be needed later. Even if no diagnosis is given, it shows that there were academic concerns. If the child at a later time does qualify for modifications, the earlier testing can be used as support.

Some students who do not have ADHD or learning disabilities qualify for modifications due to psychological factors. Depressed or anxious students whose emotional struggles are impacting their academic progress are also entitled to accommodations. In such cases, a letter from a doctor documenting the depression or anxiety is not enough. Again, it must be demonstrated through objective testing that the depression or anxiety is affecting their ability to take the test. “Test anxiety” is not enough to warrant accommodation. The anxiety must be one that affects other aspects of the student’s life besides taking tests. When seeking accommodations, the College Board looks to see if this is the case. It is the most common reason for denial of accommodations. Diagnosis and documentation is essential.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and its amendments in 2008, as well as the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, protect the rights of students with emotional, learning and attention difficulties. These laws were created to give all students a fair chance at academic success, not an unfair advantage. When accommodations are justified and necessary, academic accommodations like extended time can significantly impact school performance and make a real difference.

Dr. Evan Kroll is a clinical and school psychologist in Teaneck, NJ. He provides therapy and testing services to children, teens and adults.

By Evan Kroll, Ph. D.

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