College & Workforce Readiness

ACT Streamlines Accommodations System After Criticism for Denials, Delays

By Catherine Gewertz — May 24, 2016 2 min read
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UPDATED ACT, which has been criticized for making it difficult to get accommodations on its college-entrance exam, announced Tuesday that it is taking steps to make the process easier.

The Iowa-based testing company said that a new system, which will begin next month, would “simplify and speed up” the process of getting accommodations for students with diagnosed disabilities. It will provide a “faster and more user-friendly experience” by providing a single online request form, and the ability to track the request as it moves through ACT’s system. And it is designed to eliminate “unnecessary documentation,” a key stumbling block that has been reported by many students with disabilities and their advocates.

Suzana Delanghe, ACT’s chief commercial officer, said in a prepared statement that ACT is “making these enhancements to improve the experience of students who require accommodations on the ACT due to special needs.”

UPDATED But ACT spokesman Ed Colby said that while the new system is intended to make the system easier to use, the ACT doesn’t anticipate that it will result in more approvals of requested accommodations.

“This change will not impact approvals. The transparency will simply help students know where their application is in the process, so they don’t have to wonder. These changes are simply to make the system more user-friendly for students and schools,” he said in an email to EdWeek.

Colby said that the company currently approves about 90 percent of requested accommodations, but it is examining all of its accommodations policies to see if more changes should be made to serve students better without compromising the validity of the test results or changing what it measures.

With the new system, students would register online for the test and work with their counselor, or someone else, to request accommodations online, the ACT said. The system will request that the student submit “only the documentation needed for the student’s particular diagnosis, eliminating the need to send unnecessary support materials,” the ACT said in its announcement.

The company said that, based on pilots it has conducted of the new system, students should be able to receive answers to their accommodations requests 10 days sooner, on average.

Long wait times, repeated requests for more documentation of disabilities, and denials of accommodations have been a problem for many students in states that require all students to take the ACT or the SAT, as we reported in a story earlier this year.

Many students who have been denied the accommodations they’re used to have found themselves in a difficult position: In some states, they’ve had to choose between taking the test without their usual accommodations, and risking a compromised performance, or insisting on their normal accommodations, and then being denied the right to have the scores certified for use in college admissions.

That disparity caught the eye of the Justice Department, which has been monitoring the accommodations problems students have been experiencing with the SAT and the ACT. The Council of Chief State School Officers hosted a meeting in Chicago last week of states that wanted to discuss a range of issues related to using the SAT for accountability, including the granting of accommodations. No similar meeting was scheduled for states that use the ACT, CCSSO officials said, but one could be organized if there is sufficient interest among states.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.