Special Education

College Board Expands Test Supports for Special Ed. Students, ELLs

By Madeline Will — December 13, 2016 4 min read

Students with disabilities will soon have an easier time requesting test accommodations from the College Board.

Starting on Jan. 1, most students who use testing accommodations at their schools through an individualized education program or a 504 plan will have those same accommodations automatically approved for taking a range of College Board tests, including the SAT, the Preliminary SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and Advanced Placement exams.

The College Board announced the changes—and that it would begin to provide additional testing supports to some English-language learners who are taking the SAT—earlier this month, following criticism for its testing practices regarding students with disabilities.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division began to look into the College Board’s and ACT Inc.'s practices after hearing persistent complaints that they reject many requests for accommodations that are routinely provided by schools, such as extra time or frequent breaks. Students who are used to having testing accommodations at school typically have to take the exams without them and risk a compromised performance, or, in some states, they can take the tests with their usual accommodations but not receive a certified “college-reportable” score.

This has posed challenges for students with disabilities, particularly those in the states that require high school students to take either the SAT or the ACT. Beginning in January, school testing accommodation coordinators will have to answer two questions affirmatively to have most students’ requests be approved: “Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student’s plan?” and “Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?” This change is expected to reduce the approval time for a vast majority of accommodation requests, the College Board said.

‘Their Best Work’

The accommodations that will be automatically approved under this new policy include extended time, extra or extended breaks, the use of a computer to type essays or short-answer responses, the use of a four-function calculator, and the use of a reader or a scribe, said Zachary Goldberg, a spokesman for the College Board.

If a student requests the use of assistive technology, such as a screen reader, the College Board “may follow up to determine what the technology is, that it functions appropriately with our assistive technology test form, and that it doesn’t violate test construct,” Goldberg said in an email.

He added that there will be rare instances where a student might not receive a requested accommodation after review—for example, when theaccommodation would compromise test construct or validity. A student requesting to see the test in advance would fall under that category.

“However, our primary objective is to ensure that students receive the accommodations they need to show their best work on our assessments,” Goldberg said.

Lingering Concerns

When Robbi Cooper, a parent in Austin, Texas, who is involved in the state chapter of the parent-led grassroots group Decoding Dyslexia, heard the news, she was “cautiously grateful.” She has been advocating for a fairer process for testing accommodations for months now.

Her son, Ben, who has dyslexia, is in 10th grade and uses a screenreader daily in his public school. His initial request to the College Board to use a screen reader on the PSAT and AP exams was denied.

Frustrated with what she felt was a systemic problem that puts students with disabilities at a disadvantage, Cooper filed a complaint with the Justice Department’s civil rights division. She also started a petition calling for the College Board to allow screen readers on tests for students with dyslexia.

Cooper also appealed the College Board’s decision, and her son was ultimately allowed to use a screen reader on his PSAT—but she said the process was expensive and time-consuming. The College Board’s new policy, she said, should help students who don’t have the resources to go through that process. “This changes the dynamic 180 [degrees] for kids with disabilities, for families, and for schools,” Cooper said. But she’s still waiting to see exactly how the College Board will judge assistive technology accommodations—many of which, she said, are standard in schools and needed.

“Until I see those clearly written down, I’m not ready to celebrate quite yet,” she said.

Supports for English-Learners

Also starting Jan. 1, English-learners who take a state-funded SAT during the school day will receive test instructions in their native language, and will be able to use an approved word-to-word bilingual glossary.

Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, and other widely used languages willbe among the first to be offered, the College Board’s Goldberg said.

In the fall, ELL students taking a state-funded SAT during the school day can also receive extended time on the exam (up to time-and-a-half) and will be able to take the test in a room with fewer distractions.

Only a handful of states fund the SAT during the school day: Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, plus the District of Columbia. The College Board expects to expand its ELL-testing supports to students taking the SAT in all states soon, Goldberg said.

This change comes just a few weeks after ACT Inc. announced it would start providing the same accommodations for English-learners in the fall of 2017.

A version of this article appeared in the December 14, 2016 edition of Education Week as College Board Eases Access to Supports

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education The Challenge of Teaching Students With Visual Disabilities From Afar
Teachers of students with visual disabilities struggle to provide 3-D instruction in a two-dimensional remote learning environment.
Katie Livingstone
5 min read
Neal McKenzie
Neal McKenzie, an assistive technology specialist, works with a student who has a visual impairment in Sonoma County, Calif.<br/>
Courtesy Photo
Special Education 'They Already Feel Like Bad Students.' A Special Educator Reflects on Virtual Teaching
In a year of remote teaching, a high school special ed teacher has seen some of his students struggle and some thrive.
4 min read
Tray Robinson, a special education teacher, sits for a photo at Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos, Calif., on April 21, 2021.
Tray Robinson, a special education teacher, says remote learning has provided new ways for some of his students to soar, and has made others want to quit.
Sarahbeth Maney for Education Week
Special Education What the Research Says Gifted Education Comes Up Short for Low-Income and Black Students
Wildly disparate gifted education programs can give a minor boost in reading, but the benefits mainly accrue to wealthy and white students.
8 min read
Silhouette of group of students with data overlay.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Special Education What the Research Says Most Students With Disabilities Still Attend Remotely. Teachers Say They're Falling Behind
A new survey finds that students with disabilities are struggling in virtual classes, even with added support from teachers.
3 min read
Image shows a young femal student working on a computer from phone, interfacing with an adult female.
Getty