College admission testing: know your rights

Many students with ADHD are familiar with receiving accommodations as part of their 504 plans.  You may not know that you can also request accommodations standardized college admissions. Many of the testing organizations have been accused of putting up barriers to receiving these accommodations.

Protecting Disabled Students’ Rights to Accomodations

The Government Accountability Office has studied this issue and issued a report earlier this week recommending that the Department of Justice become involved in ensuring the testing industry provides accommodations to all eligible individuals.

AHEAD (Association on Higher Education And Disability) is in the process of revising its guidance on best practice for testing accommodations to place less emphasis on diagnostic tests to determine eligibility and more focus on educational and accommodation histories of individuals.  They are a great resource if you need more information on this subject.

A complete copy of their press release on the subject follows:

GAO calls on the Department of Justice to protect students’ rights

Each year, millions of people take standardized tests in pursuit of a college education, graduate studies, and professional certification or licensure.  The Americans with Disabilities Act requires companies that administer these tests to provide test modifications to best ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities.  The high stakes testing industry has generated considerable controversy, a significant number of law suits and voluminous complaints to federal agencies and concerning who has a disability and how to determine what accommodations are necessary to provide equivalent access.

At the request of Representatives George Miller, Pete Stark and Cathy McMorris Rodgers the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined the process including the types of accommodations requested, factors companies consider when making decisions about requests, and how federal agencies enforce ADA compliance within the industry.

AHEAD (Association on Higher Education And Disability) and a number of its members participated in the GAO study’s interviews that helped provide a context for the GAO’s reviews of relevant laws and regulations, testing company policies, data provided by the testing industry, and federal complaint data.

The report recommends that the Department of Justice develop a strategic approach to enforcing the ADA in the high stakes testing industry to ensure the timely provision of accommodations to all eligible individuals. Justice has reviewed the report and agrees with its approach and conclusions.

This report, the amendments to the ADA, the regulations recently issued under Title I, II and III (particularly Section 309) along with a string of recent court cases clearly confirms an emerging approach to reviewing accommodations requests that is anchored to individual disability histories rather than the snap shots provided by diagnostic testing; more often asking “Why not” in response to a request for accommodation rather than “Why?”.  This approach will require a more thoughtful and commonsense approach to determining accommodations relying more heavily on unique experience of the individual and the  recommendations of clinicians and health care providers in order to achieve the broad goals of the ADA in connection with high stakes tests.

AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability has been revising its guidance on best practices in documentation and expects a Spring release.  The revisions will place less emphasis on diagnostic tests to determine eligibility; focusing instead on the educational and accommodation histories (formal and informal) of individuals, their supporting narratives and the surrounding context including the development of new technologies.  AHEAD encourages other organizations to review their practice and is happy to offer technical assistance; contact AHEAD via e-mail or call (704) 947-7779.

The full report Higher Education and Disability: Improved Federal Enforcement Needed to Better Protect Students’ Rights to Testing Accommodations (Report to Congressional Requesters AO-12-40 United States Government Accountability Office) can be found at

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2 Responses

  1. Jenn Cohen

    It is absolutely true that the college admissions test companies, The College Board and ACT, Inc., have been must more stingy with granting accommodations recently, largely due to abuse, both real and perceived, of the system by students faking or exaggerating symptoms in hopes of gaining an edge. It is much harder now than it once was for students who deserve accommodations to get them.

    However, I don’t entirely agree that emphasizing past accommodations in school will solve the problem. As it stands now, students who have had accommodations in place for several years are much more likely to actually get SAT/ACT accommodations than students who have only recently been diagnosed. I’ve run into enough students in my business (I’m an SAT/ACT tutor who specializes in working with ADHD students) who have been denied accommodations by their schools, both public and private, to know that reliance on the schools to make good decisions isn’t exactly a fail-safe method of ensuring students qualify for SAT/ACT accommodations. There’s simply too much money and hassle involved in implementing 504/IEP plans. Many schools, especially small ones, will deny accommodations, even with excellent documentation. Schools are also biased against intelligent or gifted students who manage to pass their classes despite a demonstrated disability.

    The system definitely needs work, and the College Board and ACT, Inc. do need “encouragement” to grant accommodations more freely. I’m just not sure the approach proposed here will solve the problem.