Parents Need to Know: Accommodations for College Entrance Exams

How will my child do on College Entrance Exams?!

It is now officially Autumn.  That lovely time of year when temperatures drop, leaves change color, and the scent of pumpkin spice latte fills the air.  School is back in full swing and the pressure is on!  High school students (and their parents!) can be seen nervously fretting over college entrance exams.  For students with special needs, like learning disabilities, test anxiety, and ADHD, the fear associated with these exams can move beyond normal nervousness into panic, dread, and mental paralysis.  

Children with special needs can receive accommodations

It is important for parents to know that children with special needs can receive accommodations on these exams similar to accommodations they receive at school.  For students who qualify, this can make all the difference.  My colleague, Dr. Jim Langley, worked with a young man whose anxiety and distractibility was so great that he fell asleep during the ACT!  On this first try he scored only 14 points, well below the average score for most state colleges.  However, once his ADHD was recognized and he received accommodations, this young man not only stayed awake for the entire test, but he also achieved a score of 25 on the exam!  Once he was able to work to his potential and achieve a score based on his abilities, this young man saw college doors opening that were previously closed to him.     

If your son or daughter has special needs that require testing accommodations, now is the time to make those needs known to The College Board, the non-profit organization that offers the SAT and ACT.  The College Board also oversees Advanced Placement courses in high schools, which means that students taking AP courses who need accommodations for testing will also fall under these same guidelines.

Snapshot of how to know if your child qualifies

Accommodations for the SAT/ACT or AP tests are NOT automatic for any student.  Even if your student receives accommodations at school, he or she will still have to apply to The College Board for accommodations in these testing situations. Once a student has received accommodations for one test (e.g., AP classes) given by The College Board, those accommodations will be available for other College Board exams (e.g., SAT/ACT).   In general, students who receive accommodations meet the following criteria:  

1.  Documented Disability:  Evidence of the student’s disability via a psychoeducational report or a report from a medical doctor.  Examples include learning disabilities, blindness, diabetes, and cerebral palsy, to name a few.

2.  Disability Impacts College Board Exam:  The disability must be to a degree that limits the student’s functioning during these exams.  Types of functional limitations include ability to read, write, or sit for extended periods.  

3.  Requested Accommodation is Necessary:  Accommodations that are approved will allow the student to perform at his/her ability level.  Documentation is needed that shows the functional limitation and how the requested accommodation addresses such a limitation.  For example, if a student needs extended time, evidence should be provided showing performance under time limits as compared to performance with no time limit or with extended time.  

4.  Accommodation is Received on School Exams:  Students who qualify for accommodations on College Board exams typically receive similar accommodations on school tests via an individualized education plan (IEP) or 504 plan.  However, having such accommodations in school does not automatically qualify the student for accommodations on College Board exams.  

Don't forget documentation

Whether the report is written by a psychologist, psychiatrist, primary care physician or other specialist, there are seven guidelines for documentation to be considered:

  1. The diagnosis is clearly stated.

  2. Information is current:  this varies with diagnosis.  Some diagnoses maybe up to five years old (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorders) whereas some need to be updated within the past year if the diagnosis is more than a year old (e.g., psychiatric disorders).

  3. Educational, developmental, and medical history is presented.

  4. The diagnosis is supported.

  5. The functional limitation is described.

  6. Recommended accommodations are justified.

  7. Evaluators’ professional credentials are established.

Getting it done: Requesting Accommodations

Start early. It is ideal to begin the request process a full semester before the student takes any examinations.  The process may take as long as seven weeks to receive an answer, plus another seven weeks if additional information needs to be submitted and considered.  The best way to begin this process is to call your school and ask for the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) coordinator.  The SSD coordinator will help walk you through the steps for applying for accommodations.  

We can help if you need A Diagnosis or Current Documentation?

The psychologists at St. Raphael Counseling can provide assessments that meet The College Board standards for the following diagnoses:  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning Disabilities, mental illness (e.g., depression, anxiety) and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Psychological testing to diagnose such disorders costs an average of $1800 to $2400 in the Denver Metro Area.  However, the work involved will vary greatly, depending on if past diagnoses are already present and only an update of current functioning is needed.  We work with families on a case by case basis to make sure that we do only the relevant testing at an affordable price.   We can also help prepare students who have generalized anxiety, test anxiety, or other mental health concerns that make exam day challenging by working with them in the weeks and months prior to their test.   Call us at 720-675-7796 to set up a free consultation.  

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