Shared from the 1/16/2017 Palm Beach Post eEdition


Accommodation process for SAT to be streamlined


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More than 1.6 million students take the high-stakes SAT exam every year. In 2015, the College Board reports it fielded 160,000 requests for accommodations and granted about 85 percent of them. CONTRIBUTED

Tens of thousands of high school juniors and seniors with various disabilities have caught a break in what many describe as a Herculean task of getting the accommodations they are granted by law in the classroom to apply to their SAT college entrance exams.

The College Board recently announced it had overhauled the process for requesting things such as extra time, large-print exams or permission to compose essays on a computer.

“This should level the playing field,” said Nancy Polin, who runs the Delray Beach-based college planning and tutorial service Educational Excellence.

The accommodations these students are asking for are typically ones that psychologists, doctors and educators have already agreed are needed to address diagnosed disabilities. They are “critically important,” Polin said, to give otherwise bright students an equal chance at doing well on any given exam.

From Polin’s ringside seat, the problem has long been that the process to extend the exceptions used on school or state tests to the college gate-keeper is complicated and yields uneven results.

“There never seemed to be consistency,” Polin said. “Students who you thought, of course they’d get approved, didn’t. Others who you weren’t sure of, did.”

More than 1.6 million students take the high-stakes exam every year. In 2015, the College Board reports it fielded 160,000 requests for accommodations and granted about 85 percent of them.

These requests come from students whose physical or mental disabilities entitle them under federal law to what is called an Individualized Education Program — an IEP, or have what is called a 504 Plan. Those plans spell out a child’s learning needs and what services or measures the school will use to address them. Some measures include altering what happens during exams.

Getting accommodations on a child’s education plans to be applied to the SAT entailed sending original documentation of the disability to the College Board. Then their experts would review the paperwork and make a ruling on whether altering testing procedure was warranted.

“There’s a lot that gets lost in translation,” said Polin, who more than once has acted as go-between. “I’ve had times when I had to talk to the psychologist who wrote the report regarding the student and get on the phone with the psychologist at the College Board.”

But not everyone has the resources to hire someone like Polin to coach a student through the system.

Beginning in 2017, the College Board is putting most of the decision-making back in the hands of high school testing coordinators.

“Under this new policy, school testing accommodation coordinators need to answer only two questions when submitting most requests for students: ‘Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student’s plan?’ and ‘Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?’ If the answer is yes to both questions, eligible students can be approved to receive most accommodations on College Board exams.

“ This new process is expected to reduce the approval time for an over-w h e l m i n g m aj o r i t y o f accommodation requests,” according to the statement announcing the changes in early December.

A “no” answer to either question won’t prompt the College Board to deny the request outright, instead it would require more information before a decision was made, officials told The Palm Beach Post.

“Educators, students, and families have asked us to simplify our process, and we’ve listened,” College Board President and CEO David Coleman said in a written statement. “The school staff knows their students best, and we want to cut down on the time and paperwork needed to submit testing accommodations request.”

The College Board billed this change as one of many aimed at making the SAT “more accessible.” Also of note, students considered English Language Learners, who are taking the test during the school day will have access to testing instruction in several languages and be able to use approved word-to-word bilingual glossaries. In fall 2017, they also can get extended test time and take the exam in a room that further limits distractions.

The changes come at a time when parents, educators and legislators have decried the growing number of tests that consume students class hours and the increasingly high stakes that come with their results.

Certain colleges, such as American University and Wake Forest, have altered their admissions policies to make submitting scores from either the SAT or its rival ACT optional.

Still, a majority of college-bound students have these tests in their future.

“We’ll see how everything rolls out,” Suncoast High Principal Karen Whetsell said. “It will be so much easier than us having to write letters. If they (the student) qualify for an accommodation, they really should be entitled to it across the board. I think it’ll be better for kids.”

Twitter: @sonjaisger

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