Recently, the Department of Justice issued significant guidance on testing accommodations for individuals with disabilities navigating the transition to adult life. These guidelines apply to test-givers for high stakes testing situations, similar to the College Board, or other professional, licensing entities. Please see this article, and the embedded PDF for further information.
Briefly, I’ll try to highlight and summarize a few, key items from this guidance:
- First, it is important to be aware that this guidance is based on regulations recently clarified in response to questions and complaints. Many in the industry may not be aware of it yet, and a change in processes and procedures may be a bit longer in coming as a result. However, this guidance should relieve some of the excessive burdens placed upon families as their students move out of the high school setting, transitioning into college or career life.
- The information here doesn’t apply to K-12 settings or testing situations, as these are generally governed by additional laws as well. Sometimes, general principles will eventually become adopted in a practice area where regs are concerned, but I don’t believe this guidance applies to K-12 or high stakes testing within States, and school districts. That said, it does offer helpful guidance to counseling offices with respect to advising parents and submitting paperwork (under their eventual guidelines) to testing authorities, such as the College Board.
- As never before, testing authorities are directed to look at prior history, both formal and informal – including a history of a disability, a paper trail (504 or IEP documentation), and opinions of educators, and the experience of students themselves who have received formal or informal accommodations. Documentation requirements are broader, including formal plans, but also, educator opinions, and statements regarding prior accommodation. Evaluator reports are given deference, and are required to be given due weight by this guidance.
- Students receiving accommodations may not have their tests “flagged,” as accommodated in nature, whatever the accommodation. This means that, for instance, someone taking the GRE for graduate school will not be “flagged” as disabled, a label which skirts equal treatment for those with disabling conditions.
- A presumption of current need based on prior accommodation: here, in this guidance, prior, regular use of accommodation (gaining permission for use of extra time on the SAT, for instance) would later extend to the GRE or LSAT, for instance. This is important because it removes the need for excessive and expensive “retesting,” for a disability that is more than likely life-long. Additional information could be requested, but narrowly. An entire re-evaluation (usually with expensive, cognitive testing) would be avoided for families and students under this guidance.
- Generally, an accommodation must create an equal, level field for test-takers with disabilities — they cannot be given “lesser” accommodations when there is an alternative that makes for a more equal testing accommodation. However, accommodations must address the disability, and be “basic,” in nature to the extent that, for example, the right kind of math tool (a basic calculator) must be used for a math related disability, not a super-fancy, confusing and irrelevant tool.
This guidance is powerful. It lowers the bar for receipt of needed accommodations for families with limited means, or lack of access to educational testing, and encourages students with disabilities in taking professional level, or trade-level exams – including the GED, cosmetology, or technical exams for a trade.
I am not relating this to you as an attorney might – but I am sharing this as an advocate and parent. It may happen that the College Board and others push back against this guidance but at this point, this seems to be the direction they are being shown: give the benefit of the doubt regarding access to appropriate accommodations when a record already exists.
So, practically speaking – what does all this mean? It means that we, as parents, can be aware of this guidance as we interact with school counselors. It means that, as we apply for testing accommodations on behalf of students, we are in-the-know: different, less-expensive and intrusive documentation may work to access accommodations for our students. But always check.
That said, some documentation may still be needed to demonstrate the disability and the match between needed accommodations. More information may still be required as to daily use, functionality, or disability, depending on the circumstance. This may or may not assist us with requesting college level accommodations of a school of higher education once our students are admitted to their school of choice, or career related training. Institutions may still request additional information – there’s nothing here to exactly preclude that. (Though in Texas, they must review prior testing and records re disability first before asking for more information)*
But, this may go a long way toward changing hearts and minds and making the road a bit easier.
Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
*Texas Education Code §51.9701 (State Law) §51.9701 Assessment for Dyslexia
“Unless otherwise provided by law, an institution of higher education, as defined by Section 61.003, may not reassess a student determined to have dyslexia for the purpose of assessing the student’s need for accommodations until the institution of higher education reevaluates the information obtained from previous assessments of the student. Added by Acts 2011, 82nd Leg., R.S., Ch. 635, Sec. 5, eff. June 17, 2011.”
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