Evidence of Need for Accommodations for SAT/ACT

This is a memo I prepared for parents of students, and students themselves, seeking accommodations for the SAT and ACT college entrance exams.  It also applies to graduate level high-stakes exams such as the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, LSAT, etc.  I revised it after hearing a presentation by the psychologist in charge of granting accommodations at the Educational Testing Service, which owns and manages the SAT, at the 2012 Learning Disability Association annual conference (at which I also presented, with colleague Jordi Kleiner, on LD/ADD evaluation).

As the SAT and ACT exams approach, parents, students, and therapists, sometimes wonder whether to request accommodations, such as for extra time taking the exam.  It used to be the case that a therapist’s note stating that a student had a disability and needed extended time or other accommodations was sufficient, but that is no longer the case.  SAT and ACT now require both substantial evidence of disability and evidence of both eligibility for, and use of, the specific accommodation(s) being requested, including:

1.  An evaluation documenting both that a student has a disability and that the disability, in his or her specific case, impacts processing speed or effectiveness in reading, mathematics, or other cognitive or learning processes in such a way as to require extra time (or other accommodation).  A copy of the report of evaluation has to be provided with the request for accommodation, not just be referred to by a therapist or other third party.  It has to include detailed test results and supporting information (such as case history, behavioral observations and teacher and parent rating forms or interviews).  It is not enough for an evaluator to say that a student has a condition, such as ADHD or anxiety disorder, and therefore needs extra time.  The evaluation has to document that the disorder affects this particular student in such a way as to substantially affect the student’s information processing and test taking.  “Document,” here, means not just saying that it does, but showing how it does, through empirical methods.

2. A history of the student actually having both been found eligible, in school, for the specific accommodations being requested, and having actually used those accommodations.  This history should document a track record of accommodations going back several years–not weeks or months.  It is not sufficient for the school to have found the student eligible for an accommodation which the student did not use.

There are several situations in which requests for extra time or other accommodations are unlikely to be granted by SAT or ACT:

•Parents asking us to request extra time, or other accommodations, on behalf of a student whose record does not contain the necessary supporting evidence referred to above.

•Therapists making the request on behalf of student patients, without the supporting evidence referred to above.

•Parents asking for extra time, or other accommodations, for students who have received them on an informal basis, that is, without an evaluation specifically calling for them based on a diagnosed disability, and without being provided as part of a formal educational plan for that student.

The date of the evaluation may make a difference to SAT or ACT.  Generally, evaluations over three years old may be regarded as too old to be valid.  First-time evaluations done shortly before the request for accommodations may be regarded as done solely or primarily for that purpose, rather than to elucidate the needs of the student for educational accommodations.

Another issue is timeliness of our receiving the documentation from parents/families in order to include them in our documentation to ACT or SAT.  Note that evaluations and any supporting documents need to be on file at school within the time limit specified prior to the date of submission to ACT or SAT.  Evaluations or other documents submitted after that date may not be included with the request for accommodations, or may be included without being integrated into our request.

Review of “Hanging By A Twig: Understanding and Counseling Adults with Learning Disabilities and ADD,” by Carol Wren, with Psychotherapeutic Commentary by Jay Einhorn

(Reviewed by Delores S. Doherty, MD, FRCPC, St. John’s Newfoundland, in the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2006, 15, 95-6)

This book could not have come into my experience at a better time.  My patients are growing up, and lo and behold, they are still disabled!

Hanging by a Twig is the way one disabled adult described her life, i.e., just hanging on and always precariously.  Mary’s story is told in chapter 2, intermingled with information on the historical context of our current understanding of learning disabilities, learning styles, cognitive strengths and weaknesses.  Each chapter in this book is built around the story of an adult with specific learning issues.  Carol Wren moves us through the stated purpose of the chapter while Jay Einhorn gives us a psychotherapeutic commentary on the issues described.  Together they take us through development of self, coherence of self, adult skill set, self-esteem, addiction, and other co-morbidities, looking at the issue and its impact on the individual.

The pervasive nature of these impairments of cognition on the overall functioning of the individual becomes very evident as we read these real life stories.  In addition, the challenges for doing therapy with these people, who are intrinsically at heightened risk for personality distortions, jumps from the pages.  The authors make clear the need to help these adults understand their own strengths and limitations.  Then they are better able to make informed choices in regard to further education and career, to seek appropriate supports for themselves, and to begin to consider the impact of their disabilities might make on personal relationships.

As a group involved with children and adolescents, I believe that we also have an obligation to attempt to help our adult colleagues understand that these individuals suffer.

This book is a resource that we can recommend with enthusiasm.  It is well written and provides clear descriptions of a number of possible scenarios as well as suggestions for management.  I will be encouraging those I know who counsel adults with residual developmental concerns to read and learn from Hanging by a Twig.  I have already recommended it to our local chapter of the Learning Disabilities Association.  It is an excellent resource and an enjoyable reading experience.

(published by Norton and Co., New York, 2000)