In Collegewise’s work as a tutoring entity, we’ve helped many students with learning differences and families apply for testing accommodations and prepare for the ACT or SAT. It’s not unusual for a Collegewise student and family to consider whether to pursue accommodations, and the process can seem daunting.
At one point, we estimated that a third of the students we were working with were deciding whether to seek an evaluation, apply for accommodations, or utilize and test with them. We enjoy serving as a resource to these students and families, and we’re here to help students of all abilities work through the college admissions process. As educators, we truly believe that many of us simply learn differently, and it’s our job to figure out how to reach and best assist all different types of learners to maximize their potential in school and beyond.
Many students (and parents and guardians) have concerns about school or testing accommodations with questions such as:
- What if our student needs accommodations for ACT or SAT? Or for college in general?
- Does our child need them?
- How do we get accommodations?
- What types of accommodations are available?
- If a student uses accommodations, does that mean we need to disclose this to colleges?
- Will the colleges know that the student took the ACT or SAT with accommodations?
- Does a student HAVE to use accommodations once they’re granted?
- If a student has accommodations for the ACT, do they automatically have them for the SAT (or vice-versa)?
- What if a student needs accommodations for AP tests? What about the PSAT?
In our roles as counselors and tutors, we do our best to make recommendations for students and families when it comes to making decisions about testing and accommodations. This is a highly individualized process, and we always recommend that you work with your child’s school, case manager, or educational psychologists when navigating the best path for you and your family.
We’re going to focus on accommodations as they relate to standardized testing–namely the ACT and the SAT. The ACT is administered by the ACT company or ACT Inc. The College Board is responsible for the AP exams, as well as the PSAT (all forms of the PSAT/8/9/10/NMSQT) and the SAT. Since two different organizations administer the tests, the application process for the two tests is separate and distinct, and just because you received accommodations for one test does not mean you’ve secured them for the other. Accommodations can include large print tests, having a scribe who bubbles in the answers, and audio versions of the exams, but the most common support is time and a half or double-time (typically, some form of extended time). Our overall recommendation is that families/students request as many accommodations they think they might need, and then see what gets approved. We’ve seen students receive unlimited time for tests, DVDs they can rewind, stop-the-clock breaks, small classroom testing settings, or individual proctoring.
Requesting Standardized Testing Accommodations
First, let’s talk about how to secure accommodations through the ACT and College Board, respectively. You should plan to begin the process as early as you can.
For the ACT, families/students should register for the test online at act.org, indicate that they will be pursuing accommodations, and then work with the student’s high school by supplying the release form. You’ll also need to decide which type of accommodations you’re seeking for either the ACT or College Board tests, and the recommendations of an IEP, 504 or educational psychologist will likely be included in the required documentation to support these requests. The ACT also has “special testing” and “national testing day” with accommodations. Special testing is generally for students who get multiple-day testing or unlimited time. National testing day is for students who receive the more common time-and-a-half.
The College Board requires that students first submit their accommodations request and then sign up for a test. Their website notes that families should allow seven weeks prior to an exam for the review to be processed, and we recommend submitting the request even earlier than that window. Please note that the SAT is adopting a digital format beginning in March 2024 (read more about that here), so how accommodations are delivered may change. Students who were approved for paper and pencil SAT accommodations will continue to be approved for digital SAT accommodations. Students may take the PSAT as early as 8th grade (although we don’t recommend that) and should plan to apply for accommodations with the College Board well in advance of any PSAT, SAT, or AP exam.
What is an IEP or 504 Plan?
We mentioned the terms IEP and 504 earlier- but what do they mean? These are legal documents created with a child study team, a case manager, and the school counseling department that have been put into place with the consent of the family. An IEP is usually for some sort of a learning disorder/difference that is lifelong, while a 504 might be used for a more short-term accommodation, like a student who has a temporary cast due to an injury and needs a special desk plus extended time. You can read more about the logistics of these laws on the ADA website, which has resources for Americans with disabilities and their families. 504 Plans require documentation of a disability as well as a written request. They are not as comprehensive as IEPs, and usually support students in general education programs who might just need some accommodations but not a certified special education teacher’s assistance. On the other hand, IEPs dictate a special education route for students. As you can imagine, there are many documents, laws, and rules surrounding IEPs and 504s and public schools need to be in compliance with them.
At Collegewise, we encourage families to find out if students have learning differences through an evaluation or if they are concerned, although we do recognize that there are still stigmas lingering for those with disabilities. We actively work to dismantle those stigmas, as we truly believe that many of these differences are just that–different ways of thinking, of learning, and of processing information. That said, families may wish to consider the implications of securing a 504 or IEP for school and accommodations outside of school–you can always request that they’re changed, updated, or even removed. With some accommodations, your student may be in a different classroom or class than what they’d otherwise be placed in, so we do encourage you to ask questions if you get to this point. The school psychologist and your student’s case manager are great resources.
Now, we’ll divide this blog post into two parts to focus separately on the differences students face when seeking accommodations, depending on whether they attend a public or private high school.
If your child attends a public school and has an IEP or a 504 Plan, they may be eligible for accommodations. In order to get an IEP in place at a public school, the family typically needs to make a request (in writing) asking for an evaluation to be conducted, along with reasons why they might be seeking this evaluation. A reason might be the child’s pediatrician suggested it, or there’s a family history of learning differences. The school may first attempt some interventions before it moves to a full-scale evaluation.
We’ve worked with students who have accommodations through some sort of an “academic” or “educational” plan in private or parochial schools. Many times, the school will have a learning center and a student services/disabilities case manager of some sort. Families will need to work with the learning center/disabilities coordinator so that the proper documentation is filed with either ACT Inc. or the College Board. Many times, families will have the neuropsychological evaluation written up with recommendations and this information or formal diagnosis will need to be included in the documentation supporting the accommodations request.
While we’ve been talking about recommendations for working with your school administration, we recognize that not all students are in a traditional school setting. We know that some students are homeschooled and may not have a school team that works through the process with them. Alternatively, some families may not want to go through the student’s school, or the student is no longer enrolled. ACT Inc. allows families to request accommodations by filing an exception form and following their own process. Similarly, the College Board allows for families to do this and there are instructions on their website. Please note that in both of these cases supporting documentation is required, so information from a doctor, licensed diagnostician, or previous educational school evaluations (or IEPs or 504 plans) may be necessary.
Next Steps and More Resources
We know that this process can seem a bit daunting, but you can feel free to contact Collegewise for a free consultation to see how we can help you and your student through standardized testing and the accommodations process, if appropriate. While we are educators trying to help families and students navigate a nuanced process, there are many wonderful resources out there for additional support. In addition to working with your child’s medical or school-based professionals, there are student advocacy groups such as the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. We have worked with some of these professionals before and you can find great resources and recommendations by doing due diligence and researching trustworthy websites such as chadd.org, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or other reputable organizations.
Even if a student’s previous requests have been rejected by ACT Inc. or the College Board, you can appeal and/or submit new documentation for reconsideration and then get approved. In addition to Collegewise, there are well-known non-profit organizations or private student advocates who provide resources and useful tips for securing accommodations. We invite you to explore Understood.org, a non-profit organization for students who have learning and thinking differences, and Edutopia.org, George Lucas’s educational foundation dedicated to transforming pre-K-12 education.
About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.