How to Get the Testing Accommodations You Need in College
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- Higher education institutions can provide students with testing accommodations.
- Access to testing accommodations can help level the field for students with disabilities.
- Disability services can help students set up testing accommodations.
- If denied a testing accommodation request, there are steps you can still take.
Students living with disabilities can successfully navigate higher education, regardless of their unique challenges. One barrier to success many students with disabilities face in college is testing. However, testing accommodations can help.
By having students take the same test in as close to the same environment as possible, the results can measure what students have learned. However, standardized tests don't work for every student.
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Ready to Start Your Journey?
The law offers testing accommodations to students who need them. Keep reading to learn about testing accommodations and how to get them in college.
What Is a Testing Accommodation?
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. One ADA requirement is that testing entities, including colleges and universities, offer exams that are accessible to people with disabilities. Testing accommodations make this possible.
Testing Accommodations Definition
What exactly are testing accommodations? Here's what an ADA requirements resource page says:
"Testing accommodations are changes to the regular testing environment and auxiliary aids and services that allow individuals with disabilities to demonstrate their true aptitude or achievement level on standardized exams or other high-stakes tests."
Testing Accommodations Examples
Common testing accommodations include:
- Using a screen reader
- Having someone record your answers, notes, or essays
- Using a Braille test booklet
- Having more time to take the exam
- Testing at a wheelchair-accessible location
- Testing in a distraction-free room
- Taking medications during the exam
How to Get Testing Accommodations in College
Getting testing accommodations in college is different from getting them in high school. Here's how to start:
Register With Disability Services
Colleges have disability services centers to help their students succeed and ensure the school meets legal requirements. If you need testing accommodations, you must register with your school's disability services office.
Colleges have different processes for getting disability accommodations. Generally, you must register as a student with a disability on campus and provide legal or medical proof of this disability to a person qualified to make a decision about your access to these accommodations.
Prepare to Meet With Disability Services Representative
Gather documentation — like a recent medical report or psychological evaluation — stating your disability and a list of accommodations you'll need that can help you succeed in college.
If you have already gained ADA status, you'll come to the meeting with a letter from a doctor or lawyer proving that you have the legal right to ADA accommodations.
Along with this documentation, you can share with the disability services representative how your disability impacts your learning and daily life.
These representatives are typically not the ones who make the decision to approve your ADA status and testing accommodations. Some may have that authority. But usually, these representatives are there to administer how the decision — which is typically made off campus — is met, fulfilled, or accommodated.
Determine What Testing Accommodations You Need
If you had an individualized education program (IEP) up through 12th grade, just remember that your IEP does not follow you to college. It's not an approved plan at the postsecondary level.
But, it can be a jumping-off point with the doctor, lawyer, or qualified campus staff member who helps you gain access to ADA accommodations.
Then, at your meeting, you can discuss and review your ADA-approved plan with your school's disability services representative.
Notify Your Professor of the Test Accommodation If Needed
It's essential every professor you have is aware of your approved test accommodations.
Disability services may notify your professors, or they may not. Should the latter be the case, you will need to provide your professor with the documentation from disability services stating your required accommodations.
Either way, before each test, remind your instructors that you need testing accommodations. You don't want any surprises on test day should they forget.
What If Your Testing Accommodation Request Is Denied?
If your request for testing accommodations is denied, don't give up. Take the following steps to help ensure you get the support you need.
Find Out Why Your Request Was Denied
First, ask disability services why your request for testing accommodations was denied. Since you will have already shown your professional designation letter — from a doctor or lawyer, stating your legal right to ADA accommodations — you'll want to get an explanation.
Ask for details. Also, ask what you need to do to have the request approved. Get specific instructions. For example, it could be that you simply missed a step throughout the application process.
Reapply for the Testing Accommodation
Don't be afraid to reapply for the testing accommodation that is your right! Remember, the ADA is a law that protects the rights of people with disabilities.
Determine if you need to submit new information that supports your request or share previous information differently. Or if you need to obtain paperwork from off-campus doctors or lawyers to establish your ADA status.
For instance, maybe you supplied a photocopy of a scanned medical document when your college only accepts documentation mailed directly from medical offices.
Reach Out to Your State Advocacy Agency
If disability services continues to deny your request for the testing accommodation after you have reapplied, it may be time to reach out to your state advocacy agency.
File a Complaint Under the ADA
If you have gone through the steps of gaining ADA status, the school cannot deny your reasonable testing accommodation requests. If it does, you may decide to take further action.
If it comes to it, you may need to file an ADA complaint with a federal agency. Most likely with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Complaints can take up to three months to be reviewed — so don't count on this as a quick fix to getting testing accommodations.
To learn more about filing a complaint with a federal agency, visit the ADA's File a Complaint webpage.
If a student goes to the campus disability office without ADA status and tries to obtain it there, then that is a different process. If this campus has qualified ADA personnel, they may be able to make the decision on campus. If the campus does not have these qualified individuals, they will send the student to consult with external professionals who can, like doctors or lawyers.
Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Testing Accommodations in College
Is it hard to get accommodations in college?
Since colleges are legally bound to offer certain disability services to students who have ADA status, getting testing accommodations should be a straightforward process. Furthermore, many of your instructors are passionate about teaching. They likely will be happy to provide testing accommodations that can help you succeed.
However, if you find the process isn't simple, there are advocates available to help you secure accommodations.
Why are test accommodations important?
You will be investing your money, time, and energy into your education. Testing accommodations are incredibly important because you need your test scores to accurately reflect the knowledge and skills you're gaining from a course.
You don't want to retake a course just because you didn't have the testing accommodations you needed.
What are common testing accommodations for students with disabilities?
Some common testing accommodations include extended time to take an exam, screen readers, people to record your answers, and quiet rooms.
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