Documenting Accommodations for Colleges or Testing Agencies
What Is the Purpose of Testing Accommodations?
“A level playing field creates a fair and valid assessment.” When you take a course exam or a national “high stakes” assessment such as the GRE, LSAT, MCAT or USMLE Step tests, your scores should produce an accurate depiction of your knowledge and skills. Testing usually compares your performance to others – other students in your course or a larger sample upon which a high stakes test was normed. If you have a disability (i.e., dyslexia, ADHD, anxiety, Autism Spectrum Disorder), your scores may not reflect your actual knowledge or ability unless you take the test with accommodations. For example, someone with dyslexia (a reading-based learning disability) may need extra time to go back and re-read sentences or to sound out new words. If that person takes a test in the same amount of time as other students without dyslexia, his/her scores will partially reflect the impact of the learning disability.
For this reason, testing accommodations are designed to level the playing field. A strong body of research on the fairness of extra time on tests has identified a finding called the “differential boost” (http://pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=10&n=8). When test-takers with learning disabilities are given extra time, their scores tend to reflect their predicted performance. When test-takers without disabilities are given extra time, their scores tend to stay the same or drop when they second-guess/change correct answers.
That said, not everyone with a disability needs testing accommodations to have a level playing field. Sometimes, older students may have matriculated into college or even graduate/professional school without being diagnosed, spending many extra hours or employing testing strategies to succeed. However, as the demands of the tests increase, some of these individuals “hit the ceiling” and reach a point where they are no longer able to perform up to their potential on tests administered under standard conditions. Often, this is the key reason an adult seeks a diagnostic assessment for the first time in order to determine why they are suddenly struggling with test taking.
How Does a Test-taker Qualify for Accommodations?
Universities’ Disability Services offices and national testing agencies publish guidelines to explain how this works. Sometimes the guidelines are specific to the type of disability (e.g., ADHD Guidelines). Sometimes they are generic and apply to students with any type of disability. In most cases, you will need to provide documentation of your situation. Documentation might be an assessment report, a doctor’s letter, school records, a personal statement that you write, or some combination of these. You are responsible for reading through the appropriate documentation guidelines to determine what applies to your own situation.
In general, documentation will:
- need to clearly state your disability,
- provide objective data about how your disability currently affects you when taking tests (these impact issues are referred to as “functional limitations”),
- recommend accommodations that can mitigate your functional limitations, and
- explain, if you have never needed testing accommodations before, why you need them now in order to have a level playing field.
How Do DACTA Services Work?
Some test-takers have a long history of using accommodations. They understand their disability, know what kinds of functional limitations arise in testing situations, have a lot of experience applying for accommodations, and also have the documentation necessary to submit. Other test-takers have little to no experience with this process and can feel overwhelmed – where do they even start? That’s where DACTA services may be helpful. Dr. David Parker leads CRG’s DACTA services. For nearly 20 years, Dr. Parker helped run the LD/ADHD services office at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Connecticut, and Washington University in St. Louis. This work entailed helping students and professors determine reasonable accommodations for course exams. In addition, he has served on the ETS Disability Services panel since 1997. Educational Testing Services (ETS) administers high-stakes tests such as the GRE, Praxis and TOEFL. Members of the Disability Services panel help determine what accommodations test-takers with disabilities receive on those exams.
To schedule DACTA services, call CRG’s intake coordinator at (317) 575-9111, ext. 3. The intake coordinator will discuss these services, explain the fee structure and whether your insurance can help pay for any of it. The intake coordinator will get you scheduled and describe the information you will need to share with CRG in advance. DACTA services are organized into these segments:
- Meet with Dr. Parker (virtually or in person) for 1 hour. He will have reviewed your materials prior to this intake. Dr. Parker will answer your questions, including why the testing agency has thus far denied your accommodation request OR any gaps in your documentation that may need to be strengthened when you apply for accommodations in the first place.
- Dr. Parker will then spend 30 minutes following up with the professional who did your testing (if this has been done and you wish to continue working with that evaluator) OR consult with CRG psychologist, Dr. Jill Wise, about your situation. Dr. Wise has a great deal of experience conducting comprehensive neuropsychological testing. While CRG can never guarantee how testing agencies might respond to her findings or recommendations, Dr. Wise’s evaluations are aligned with guidelines published by testing agencies. Due to licensing guidelines, any testing with Dr. Wise needs to be conducted in person.
- After your intake meeting with Dr. Parker, you will meet with him again (virtually or in person) in about a week for 30 minutes. He will update you on his consultation with the evaluator and describe his recommendations for your next steps. These might entail:
- Follow up with your original evaluator for additional testing or a brief addendum that provides more detailed information about your need for accommodations.
- A referral to Dr. Wise for new or updated testing that will result in a comprehensive written report you can submit with your accommodations request.
- Dr. Parker will also describe any additional coaching services he can offer beyond this intake process. For example, he can help you write a personal statement to the testing agency and/or help you develop stronger test-taking strategies.
Dr. Parker and Dr. Wise look forward to learning more about your unique situation and bringing their professional experience to bear to assist you.