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Testing Accommodations for the ACT, SAT, PSAT, or AP exams

Recently I presented information on testing accommodations on a Facebook live recording. If you or someone you know has a student who needs or already received extra time or test modifications at school, you will want to learn more about getting appropriate accommodations on the ACT, SAT / PSAT or Advanced Placement exams.

 

Sometimes I don’t want to watch an entire video, so for those of you who want a quick summary, here are some of my notes.

I’m going to explain

  • who gets extended time & why
  • what you need to do to apply
  • the review process
  • questions you should consider before applying for accommodations
  • resources for further questions

Once approved, accommodations are good for a student’s entire time in high school. If you have an 8th, 9th, or 10th grader, now might be your best time to get this process started.

Before I jump into my 5 points, if you know someone who might need to know this information, please tag them and share this video—share with friends, parent groups, sports teams, homeschool groups, and educators. College admission is hard enough as it is, no need to take these important exams without appropriate accommodations.

Who gets extended time & why

Students who have proven mental or physical needs. Sometimes we think of the common needs for ADD / ADHD or anxiety, but there are many students who need some test accommodations:

  1. blind—braille
  2. arthritis—couldn’t bubble answers
  3. narcoleptic – extended time in case she dozed off for a few moments during the test.
  4. more severe brain / processing issues – up to 3X regular time with a reader
  5. insulin pump diabetics—extra time to monitor blood sugar, go to the bathroom, and have snacks as needed
  6. students with written expression issues may be allowed to use a computer to type essays

Goal: to level the playing field and provide each student with an appropriate environment to test.

Complaint: But won’t they get an advantage?

  1. Not really an advantage– ADD / ADHD extra time is a blessing and a curse.
  • Time & a half takes a four hour exam and makes it a SIX hour ordeal
  • 2x & 3x time can break the test up into multiple days—twice the stress
  1. I think we all agree it is better to have a hard time with the SAT or ACT and NOT have a traumatic brain injury, narcolepsy, etc.

College Board & ACT are very aware of the need for fairness—both on side of test taker with needs, but also on the side of not giving extra time to those who don’t need it.

What you need to do to apply

Applications for testing accommodations should originate from your school.

Why?

  • Faster—counselor, head of school, case manager, or testing coordinator can submit electronically, substantially reducing processing time
  • Reduces the chance of needing additional documentation—schools have a process
  • Less hassle—let the professionals do their jobs.

You can request on your own—homeschool—but if you are trying to go around your school to request accommodations, expect added scrutiny.

Here are the basic issues you should expect to address in any request

  1. What is the need? Is there a diagnosed disability?
  2. Does the need justify testing accommodations? (Not all conditions require testing accommodations. I might have a missing leg, but unless I can show how that justifies changes in my testing…)
  3. Does the student receive these accommodations at school? Is there an IEP or 504 currently in place with these accommodations listed?– This is a big point.
  4. Does the student currently USE the requested modifications at school?
  5. Documentation supporting the request—current, clear statement of diagnosis and how it presents a functional limitation, specific accommodations and why they are justified, professional qualifications of the evaluator, any “testing” (neuropsychological or psychoeducational) done to come to these conclusions

ACT has a nice summary of requirements:

  1. FAIR
  2. CONSISTENT
  3. VALID — not result in an undue burden, as that term is used under the ADA, or fundamentally alter that which the test is designed to measure.
  4. PROFESSIONAL

The Review Process

Standard review takes 6-8 weeks. It can be more at busy times of the year or if you are asked to submit additional supporting documentation.

In general, your request will walk through these steps:

  1. initiate with your school – follow up to make sure request has been submitted
  2. ACT / College Board receives your request and may ask for additional information
  3. Request is reviewed and decision is made
  4. Notification of approval (or not) and which accommodations
  5. If denied, why and an opportunity to appeal – Neighbor was denied by ACT 3-4 years ago because all of their documentation was outdated—from elementary school. Had to decide if it was worth it to appeal

Questions you should consider before applying for accommodations

  1. Is my child currently receiving accommodations? And are they helping?
  2. Will accommodations help or hurt? (used for good or evil)

EX: OCD

EX: focus / attention issues – 6 hours may not be better than 4

  1. Will the student actually USE testing accommodations if granted?

potential client didn’t want to be seen as “different”

extended time for ACT—walking out earlier

  1. What other choices do we have?

AP exams—not many alternatives—take with or without extended time

College admission:

ACT

SAT

Test optional colleges or community colleges where SAT / ACT not required

How ACT & SAT administer extended time is different. You may get different accommodations from each.

You make the decisions. BUT sooner you start the process, the more options you have.

Resources for further questions

Please post questions on the College Prep Results Facebook page. I am happy to answer and will be honest when I can’t give you an answer. When I don’t know, I turn to the College Board or ACT student support offices. Over the years I have found them to be very helpful and professional. (Keep in mind they are charged with protecting issues of fairness and they do get a number of bogus requests, so if they question your request, don’t take it personally.)

 

College Board (SAT, PSAT, AP Exams)

https://www.collegeboard.org/students-with-disabilities

844-255-7728 (toll free)

 

ACT

https://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/registration/accommodations.html

319-337-1332

 

Thank you all for sticking with me through all of these details. I know it can seem like a lot—especially if this is new information. But it is so important that we get better educated as parents, mentors, and educators.

Unfortunately so many of our school counselors are overwhelmed—they have case loads of 500 – 1000 students and sometimes little details like ACT accommodations fall through the cracks—especially for our independent kids who are getting good grades. And a lot of our non-traditional schools or homeschool co-ops may not have someone with extensive experience (or any experience) in this area, so please help spread the word.

If you want more college planning or test prep information— sign up for my newsletter and take the free email course for parents.

 

 

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Necessary college planning for current sophomores and juniors

Two weeks ago I was speaking with my daughter, a high school junior, and we were talking about college visits. She’s narrowing down her choices somewhat, but there are still a number of potential schools we have not visited.

I said, “We can see them over the summer.” Then I looked at the family calendar.

Between speech & debate tournaments, a mission trip, family vacation, a week at a psychology immersion camp, and a family reunion, we only had three weeks available. That’s three weeks to cover 6 schools across the state of Texas and 4 other colleges in Maryland, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

And that’s when I felt like the client instead of the professional.

I’ve seen so many families with good intentions (and plans) fall behind because they didn’t realize how little time they actually had for college visits, attempts at the SAT or ACT, or applications. Today’s article will outline some of the optional and necessary college planning for current sophomores and juniors. If you have a freshman, take notes because you will need to start planning soon.

 

 

College Planning

We’ve all seen plenty of college planning timelines. I’ve written articles on the subject. But it only becomes real when it is written on the family calendar.

It is easy to think, “We can do that over the summer.” Or, “She / he will have time for that next year; college is so far off.” But once we are in our routines for the school year or summer, it is easy for time to slip away.

Here are the college planning activities I would encourage you to pencil in for your family:

SAT / ACT

For Current Juniors:

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who has already finished with testing. Congratulations! But many students are still preparing and working towards a score goal. Here are the remaining test dates:

            ACT

  • April 14, 2018
  • June 9, 2018
  • July 14, 2018
  • September 8, 2018
  • October 27, 2018 (but this is pushing it!)

   SAT

  • May 5, 2018
  • June 2, 2018
  • August 25, 2018
  • October 6, 2018
  • November 3, 2018 (but this is pushing it!)

Plan which test(s) you can take. Remember to watch for conflicts with AP Exam weeks (May 7-18), prom, final exams, vacation, and fall activities.

The sooner you finish testing, the sooner you can devote your full attention to the next step: applications.

For Current Sophomores:

You have the luxury of planning ahead right now. Next year when will you have the most time and interest to prepare? Try to avoid competition season for sports and activities. Consider the time demands of future Advanced Placement (AP) classes. (AP exams are always the first two weeks of May.)

Students who complete Algebra II as sophomores will have enough content knowledge to take the ACT or SAT in the fall. Students who are currently taking geometry and will take Algebra II in the fall may want to consider

  • Taking the ACT which does not include higher level Algebra II concepts and / or
  • Waiting until the spring to take these exams

Other than math, most students will not learn anything in school that will help on the ACT or SAT. So you don’t need to wait for spring in order to test. Many of my clients are done with testing. Some finished back in September and October when they earned top scores on these exams as juniors. The key is finding the time that is right for you.

Here are the test dates for next school year, so you can start planning. Keep in mind many students will take their choice of exam 2-3 times.

            ACT

  • September 8, 2018
  • October 27, 2018
  • December 8, 2018
  • February 9, 2019
  • April 13, 2019
  • June 8, 2019
  • July 13, 2019

            SAT

  • August 25, 2018
  • October 6, 2018
  • November 3, 2018
  • December 1, 2018
  • March 9, 2019
  • May 4, 2019
  • June 1, 2019

 

College Visits

It is not a requirement to visit every school on your list before you apply. But it is a good idea to visit a minimum of 3-5 colleges so you have a better idea of what different schools offer and how your interests may be met differently at specific schools.

There are so many variables when it comes to finding schools that are a good fit. I always say a college visit is like test driving a new car or trying on a new pair of shoes. You can read websites, compare rankings, talk to neighbors, and get the advice of experts. But when it comes to making a final decision, the only opinion or ranking that matters is yours.

I understand time and money are limiting factors in making college visits, but I also know the more informed you are, the better you can decide. Part of the evaluation process is where to apply, but the other part is where to attend. Notes made on trips during your junior year might save you a last-minute rushed visit in the spring of your senior year as you try to make your final selection.

Here has been our college visit approach:

  1. Summer before junior year—visit a variety of schools (big, small, urban, college town, etc.), take good notes, make a list of likes, don’t likes, and must haves.
  2. Junior year—continue adding possible colleges and removing some for not meeting criteria. (For example, my daughter likes liberal arts colleges, but has decided schools with fewer than 1500 students are just too small.)
  3. Junior year—visit more campuses. Take advantage of school holidays and breaks. Look for colleges you might be near as you take family trips.
  4. Summer before senior year—narrow your college list. I’m nervous when students have fewer than 5 schools on their lists and I know most students don’t have the time, energy (or money) to apply to more than 15. (They Dorsey list currently has 10 schools. That might increase or decrease by a couple between now and August.)
  5. Summer before senior year—make sure you have done official tours with a minimum of three of the colleges on your list. Visiting friends and relatives doesn’t count. You need the tour and information session from the admissions office to count it as a college visit.

As I found, it was easy to imaging we would have time to make all these college visits—until I started to pencil them in on my calendar. Most admissions offices let you schedule campus visit online, so you can do this at anytime.

Note: Many campuses are in a transition period right now, so don’t worry if you can’t schedule summer visits just yet. The national date to inform students of college admission in April 1. Seniors have until May 1 to inform the colleges of their decisions. Many schools are still focusing on this year’s seniors and will get summer visit schedules online soon.

Activities

Ideally students should be involved in meaningful activities throughout the year. But sometimes projects, community service, and hobbies get delayed during the school year. Summer is the ideal time to catch up.

This summer my daughter needs to finish her Girl Scout Gold Award and she has a goal of earning more service hours. She will also attend a week-long psychology institute at Wake Forest University. And we can’t forget all those hours working on speech & debate!

What are your summer plans? What else can you accomplish?

When students tell me they are just going to hang out for the summer, I remind them they will still have time for fun AND activities. And if you need a little convincing, take a look at some college applications and see how well you can fill in the “activities” section.

Applications

I will cover the topic of applications in greater depth in another article. What you need to plan for is some time, maybe a couple weeks, to draft a resume and start working on college essays. Summer is a great time to get started, but keep in mind, most colleges don’t open their online applications until August 1.

Conclusion

For those of us with juniors, that senior year will be here before we know it. It seems like high school just started and now the reality of college applications is here.

Take a little time to actually put testing, college visits, activities, and application work on your calendar, so you don’t accidently fall behind.

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Does it hurt to take the SAT / ACT multiple times?

Does it hurt to take the SAT / ACT multiple times?

Will colleges question why I took the test for a 4th time?

Will it help if colleges see I’m improving my scores by taking the ACT / SAT more?


Most students will take the ACT / SAT two or three times. Colleges know this and are not surprised when they receive multiple score reports reflecting a student’s attempts at these standardized tests.

In admission, colleges and universities are looking for reasons to admit a student– in other words, looking for the best results possible. Find out how colleges use scores when a student has taken tests more than once.

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SAT and ACT “Extras” That Are Worth Paying For

Should you pay for the SAT Student Response Service (SRS) or Question Answer Service (QAS) or ACT Test Information Release (TIR)?

There are a lot of options to add to your cart when registering for the SAT or ACT. I skip over most of them, but there are a few items I consider essential.

The other day I spent 20 minutes on the College Board website registering my daughter for another SAT. “Another” is important because most of her personal information was already saved in the system. But I had to click through page after page of classes taken, extracurricular, and potential college majors / activities before I could sign her up for the December exam. Once I made it to the screen where I could add the test, I was ready to finish and pay. Good thing I knew what to look for because there were a few extra items I needed to add to our order.

When registering for the SAT or ACT there are so many add-on extras it is tempting to skip them all and complete your check out. But there are a few item you should get. Some are just good tools, while others could be essential.

+Writing (The Optional Essay)

Starting in 2016 the written essays became optional on both the SAT and ACT. These “draft” writings completed at the end of the multiple-choice exams do not affect a student’s overall score on either test.

So, why should you care?

Some colleges and universities still require students to have the written portion of the exam. I’ll admit, these schools are in the minority. In the past couple years, more and more colleges have dropped the optional essay writing requirement. But if you want to apply to a school (or program) that requires the essay, they may choose to only evaluate scores from exams that have the written essay.

My daughter is a junior. We have a tentative list of colleges, but nothing final. So far none of her schools require the written essay, but she may add a school in the next 12 months that does. It would be a shame for her to get the score improvement she desires from the December SAT and not be able to use those results at a particular school because she didn’t do the essay. So I added the essay to our order.

I strongly recommend all juniors take the written essay with every SAT or ACT. Seniors who have a final list of colleges can skip the essay if they know that every single college, scholarship, or honors program does NOT require it.

Student Answers

Students always receive scores, but will not know which questions they got right or wrong unless you pay extra. (Of course you have to pay extra for this! Sometimes it feels like the entire college admission process involves paying extra.)

Why do you want student answers?

Unless you have the rare student who is going to take the ACT or SAT once and be satisfied with his or her scores, you should expect this will not be the last testing attempt. Most students take their test of choice 2-3 times.

Finding out which problems a student missed can go a long way for future score improvement. I have two students I helped prepare for the August SAT who got very similar scores on the math portion of the test– 670 and 680. Just looking at the scores you might think these students need to work on similar things (probably the hard questions) to make it to their goals of 700+ in math. But the Student Answer Service reports told two very different stories:

  • One student missed only the difficult questions in both calculator and no-calculator math. She missed multiple-choice and grid-in questions– but only the hard problems.
  • The other student got the hardest questions right. His errors came throughout the math section (easy, medium, and a few hard problems.) A majority of his errors were in the last section– calculator permitted math.

My suggestions for the first student involve practice with the harder question types and work on pacing, so she has the time she needs on the more difficult questions. The second student knows the math and is very familiar with the hard problem types; his issue is focus and endurance. Particularly in section four, he is losing focus, making careless errors on easier questions, and needs to work on strategies to improve accuracy. Without the question-level feedback these students wouldn’t know what to do as they prepare to retest.

Test Questions

The best feedback comes from having the most information. A few times a year, students can order a copy of the SAT exam questions. They don’t get their own test booklet back, but they do get a copy of the entire exam to go along with the list of questions they missed.

When available, I strongly encourage you order this. It usually takes 6 to 8 weeks to receive the copy of the questions, so plan to wait a few weeks before you can utilize this information.

 

Notes on What to Order

Of course we have some more admissions alphabet-soup when trying to order the items mentioned above. Here’s some info to help you decode the process:

SAT

SAT with Essay — Student can add (or drop) the essay up to the time of the exam. There is no late fee to add the essay; students just pay the extra $14 (for a total of $60) to take the written portion.

Test Questions — (QAS) Questions-and-Answer Service. You will receive BOTH a detailed report of which questions your student missed AND a copy of the test questions. For 2017-18 this is available for the Oct, March, and May exams given in the U.S. and costs $18.00.

Student Answers— (SAS) Student Answer Service. You will receive a question-by-question printout showing which problems were missed, difficulty level, and sub-score / cross-test info. This is available in Aug., Nov., Dec., and June (and international dates that don’t offer QAS) and costs $13.50.

QAS and SAS can be ordered after the exam is taken, so log into your College-Board account and order one for your last test if you didn’t already. (Usually there is a three-month limit on ordering, so don’t wait too long.)

ACT

ACT with Writing — Student can add (or drop) the essay up to the late registration deadline for that exam. If a student decided to add the writing after the late registration deadline, he or she must notify the test center coordinator on the day of the test; availability will depend on the amount of extra writing booklets (a lot like flying standby.) Students pay the extra $16.50 (for a total of $62.50) to take the written portion.

Test Questions — (TIR) Test Information Release. You will receive BOTH a detailed report of which questions your student missed AND a copy of the test questions. For 2017-18 this is available for the Dec., April, and June exams given in the U.S. and costs $20.00.

Student Answers — Unlike College Board, ACT doesn’t offer a separate answer return service on test dates not covered by the TIR option.