by John Buckley
Standardized tests, whether Advanced Placement, SAT, ACT, GRE, or whatever, are daunting under the best of circumstances. Having to hack your way through the lush undergrowth of requirements to take the test in an accessible form only complicates the process. The following article is a CliffsNotes version of how to do this with the SAT’s suite of exams. Although the ACT’s guidelines are significantly more detailed, the primary things to attend to are essentially similar.
There is no set list of accommodations that might be approved for taking standardized tests. Blind test-takers are routinely approved to use braille, large print, audio formats, human readers, or screen-readers or other types of accessible technologies. In addition, it may be possible to record answers with computers or an amanuensis. Braille, UEB for prose material and Nemeth code for math, is available for all College Board exams. It is not uncommon for new forms of accessible technology to be approved as well.
It’s important that anyone planning to take a standardized test request approval for all accommodations prior to the exam. Common requests include the use of a braille device, word processor, extended time, extra breaks, accessible calculator, and assistive technology. It’s generally difficult to receive approval for multiple accommodations that serve the same purpose. A high-school student, for example, may use large print, a magnifier, and a human reader, but it is unlikely they will be allowed to use all of these on the same test. While testing organizations are not promiscuous with such approvals, they are granted when appropriate. Students are advised to only request those accommodations they will really need.
The type and amount of documentation needed to support requests will vary with the test to be taken and the accommodations requested. Extensive amounts of extended time or the use of assistive technology, for example, usually requires supporting documentation to prove the accommodation is appropriate, both for the individual and the test to be taken. Students who are totally blind should provide a statement from either their school or doctor documenting their blindness. If an applicant is legally blind, a report from a recent visual exam by the appropriate medical professional is sufficient. An explanation as to why the accommodation is necessary, especially if the student is asking for more than one accommodation that appears to serve the same purpose, should also be included.
If the use of accessible technology is being requested, a detailed description of the technology to be used, including its name and model number, or the version of software requested should be provided. The College Board will then send the student an eligibility letter describing all accommodations that have been approved. The precise nature of some accommodations may vary with the test to be taken, so it is important to carefully review the letter.
The accessible technology compatible test form (ATC) is an accessible version of College Board tests provided on a flash drive in Microsoft Word. It’s important to request permission to use both assistive technology and the ATC. Again, students should specify the assistive technology they plan to use and the reasons why this choice would be most appropriate. The ATC format has been tested with ZoomText (with and without a reader), JAWS, and NVDA. The College Board advises, “If students plan to use the ATC with a different type of technology, they should practice using the technology prior to test day to ensure compatibility.”
It is also possible to request the ATC in the MP3 audio format. It is available on a flash drive and must be taken without a screen reader. Students using this option are given 100% extended time. Typically, a human reader is also used when taking an AP exam, although alternative accommodations may be approved.
Human readers are available for all College Board tests for approved students. Readers work with each test-taker in a one-on-one private environment. Students who test with the ATC, MP3 audio, or human reader will typically test in their own school. The College Board reports, “Students who use MP3 audio or screen readers should use headphones or test in a one-to-one setting if headphones are not available. Before test day, it is recommended that students practice using the ATC or MP3 audio test forms.” Practice tests may be found at https://accommodations.collegeboard.org/after-approval.
If all of these requirements seem daunting, take note: the College Board approved the vast majority of the more than 200,000 requests for accommodation it received last year. As the Board says, “When a student has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), 504 Plan, or Qualified Formal School Plan, most requests for accommodations will be approved if the requested accommodation is included in the plan and the student is using the requested accommodation for classroom tests. In most cases, the accommodations will be approved without the need to submit documentation for College Board's review.”
“The most efficient way for a student to request accommodations for College Board tests is to speak to a school counselor or services for students with disabilities (SSD) coordinator,” the College Board advises. “The school’s SSD coordinator can request accommodations online. Home-schooled students or students who wish to request accommodation without the assistance of the school can request accommodations by contacting SSD Customer Service and requesting a paper request form (also called a Student Eligibility Form).” It is important that students make requests as early as possible. This ensures enough time to resolve any issues before the test date.
Should a student or counselor need additional information regarding accommodations for the SAT or Advanced Placement series of tests, they should visit www.collegeboard.org/ssd or phone their office for students with disabilities at (212) 713-8333. For the ACT, the appropriate web site may be found at https://www.studypoint.com/ed/act-accommodations/, and the telephone number is (319) 337-1332. It should be noted that, while the ACT site is accessible, it is far less user-friendly and is written with a preciseness and attention to detail that would gladden the heart of a Wall Street lawyer.