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Utilizing Standardized Testing Accommodations

The college process is a long and difficult process for students and their families. Systemic barriers and disparities in education can make this path even more challenging. One critical area where these disparities manifest is in the provision and utilization of testing accommodations for standardized tests for the ACT and SAT. A prevalent misconception is that accommodations offer a competitive edge on these exams, as they are fast-paced and many believe that extra time could universally boost scores. Yet, this viewpoint misunderstands the essence of accommodations. Accommodations are essential for leveling the playing field for students with disabilities.

Specifically, data indicates that Black students are not applying for or receiving proper testing accommodations at the same rate as their white peers. Thus, it is important to bring attention to this issue and discuss how Black families can ensure their children receive the  proper accommodations they need and deserve. Studies show that black children who need accommodation in school are often misdiagnosed with conduct and behavior disorders or otherwise not diagnosed at all. In addition, the students are likely to receive both autism diagnoses and ADHD diagnoses and, ultimately, less likely to receive needed services in school.

Signs that your child may need accommodations:

  • Difficulty finishing tests within allotted time

  • High levels of anxiety that significantly impact performance.

  • Noticeable discrepancy between your child’s academic potential and their performance on standardized tests

  • Existing diagnoses that affect learning—such as ADHD, dyslexia, autism, or any physical disabilities

Studies and reports such as the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) have consistently shown that Black students are less likely to receive accommodations on standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. In the 2019-2020 school year, Bellwether found that approximately 65% of students with disabilities were placed in inclusive classes with non-disabled students for more than 80% of their school day. However, this inclusion was not evenly distributed across racial groups: 68% of white students with disabilities were placed in such settings, compared to 60% of Black students.

Research has shown that inclusive education can offer significant benefits for students with disabilities, including better academic outcomes, improved social skills, and increased self-esteem. The disparity in placement suggests that Black students with disabilities are missing out on some of these benefits compared to their white peers. Black students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, often find themselves in educational settings where the teaching staff lacks proficiency in crucial subjects like math, English, and science. This has raised concerns regarding how economically disadvantaged families—who are disproportionately students of color—face educational disparities (Tatter, 2019). Furthermore, there is evidence suggesting a significant gap in the provision of necessary special services for these students. Morgan and Farkas (2018) highlighted a stark disparity in support for students with reading challenges: while 74% of White fourth graders received special education services for their reading difficulties, the figures dropped to 44% for Black students, indicating a troubling inconsistency in support and resources provided to Black students who need support.

Resources to Check Out

  • National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD): Offers resources and guides on securing accommodations and navigating the education system.

  • The College Board and ACT Websites: Provide detailed information on the accommodations application process, deadlines, and required documentation.

  • Local and National Advocacy Organizations: Organizations like the NAACP and the Education Law Center can provide guidance and support in advocating for your child’s rights.

By taking informed and proactive steps, families can advocate for the proper accommodations their children need to succeed on standardized tests and beyond. 

Applying for Accommodations

  1. Child is identified as needing accommodations

  2. Child is properly evaluated

  3. Eligibility is decided

  4. Child is eligible for services

  5. IEP meeting is scheduled

  • IEP and 504 Plans: An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a federally mandated document that details the services a child with a disability must receive. This includes children who have speech and developmental delays as well as autism.

  • A 504 plan offers more flexible support for students not in special education.

  1. Services are provided

  2. Progress is measured and reported to parents.

  3. IEP is re-evaluated

  4. Child is re-evaluated

Tips to Apply for ACT/SAT Accommodations

  1. Early Identification and Documentation: The first step in securing accommodations is ensuring your child has been properly evaluated and diagnosed with a condition that necessitates such accommodations. This documentation should be thorough, current (typically within three years), and clearly outline how the disability affects their academic performance.

  2. Understand Available Accommodations: Familiarize yourself with the range of accommodations offered by the ACT and SAT, such as extended time, multiple day testing, someone who fills in bubbles, separate testing rooms, and reading assistance. Knowing what is available can help you advocate for your child's specific needs.

  3. Engage with Your Child’s School: Collaboration with your child’s school is crucial. School counselors and special education coordinators can be invaluable allies in gathering necessary documentation and navigating the application process.

  4. Apply Through the Proper Channels: For the SAT, accommodations requests are made through the College Board's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). For the ACT, the application is made via the Test Accessibility and Accommodations (TAA) system. Ensure you follow all instructions and meet the application deadlines.

  5. Advocate and Appeal if Necessary: If your request for accommodations is denied, don’t hesitate to appeal the decision. Persistence is key, and additional documentation or evaluations may be required to support your appeal.

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