The ACT is changing the way it offers extended time for testers who have a diagnosed disability. These changes will take place with the September 2018 exam. If you have a student or know someone who needs extended time for their testing, you need to know about these changes.
What Is The New Policy?
The first thing to understand is the new policy will affect students who have national test date extended time. This is the most common testing accommodation of one and a half times time—commonly known as extra time. Instead of being given an five and a half hour window and being told use it however they need, ACT is now going to give students exact times for each section:
- English – 70 minutes (standard time 45 min.)
- Math – 90 minutes (standard time 60 min.)
- 15 minute break
- Reading – 55 minutes (standard time 35 min.)
- Science – 55 minutes (standard time 35 min.)
- Optional Written Essay – 60 minutes (standard time 40 min.)
The previous policy did not force students to follow a rigid schedule for individual sections or breaks. Students were able to work the ACT in a self-paced way, taking more or less time than the new approach. Now everyone with extended time is going to have exactly one and a half times the time in each of these sections and will take breaks only at the scheduled break time.
Why Is ACT Extended Time Changing?
The first reason given by ACT is to increase fairness. I understand that it’s very important to protect the needs of students with diagnosed learning differences or psychological differences, but it’s also really important to protect those who don’t have extended time so that they aren’t put at a disadvantage.
Help Testers Pace Themselves
The other motive is to help extended time testers appropriately pace themselves. ACT found a lot of students with extended time weren’t using their time effectively. Some would finish without using any of the extra time their medical or psychological reports said they should have. Others failed to measure how much time to spend on each section and could make it to the last section of the test with only minutes left. In other words, ACT is saying what was intended to be a benefit for students, extra time, was an added distraction.
Loss of Flexibility
As someone who coaches students on how to improve on the ACT I’m disappointed. My students clearly understood how much time to spend on each section so that they could allocate time as needed. For these students, the new policy reflects a loss of flexibility and an approach that treats all students with mental and physical differences as if they were the same.
Over the past twenty-five years I’ve worked with students who had extended time for a wide range of reasons: ADD/ADHD, severe arthritis, dyslexia, severe brain injury / concussions, insulin dependent diabetes, processing speed issues, narcolepsy, and many more. Each student had his or her own special need for extra time. The new policy does not recognize their differences.
Downsides to the New Policy
Long Periods with No Breaks
Setting aside the issue of treating all students’ needs the same, there are other downsides to the change. First, students are going to be working a long time without breaks. An extended time student is expected to come in, sit down, go through all of the regular administrative tasks like bubbling in the answer document, focus intently for 70 minutes of English and 90 minutes of math, before the first break. These kids are sitting there for three solid hours, maybe longer, for before they’re allowed a 15 minute break!?? This is horrible news for students who have ADD / ADHD, for students who have any medical need that might require more frequent stretch breaks, bathroom breaks or even breaks to have a snack to replenish and monitor their blood sugar. This is not beneficial.
Then students will finish another two hours before they can get a brief break and work an additional hour on the essay. So what we’re essentially saying is we’re expecting kids who have all sorts of learning differences and psychological or physical differences to sit for five plus hours of an extended time exam with only one 15-minute break. And any student who needs more frequent breaks will have to lose time from a portion of the exam.
Lack of Flexibility
This is where I’m really sad to see that the ACT taking the same approach as the SAT because for years ACT provided an extended time alternative. Now students cannot choose a standardized admissions exam that allow them to exercise good judgment and allocate time according to his or her unique situation.
I’ve worked with a lot of extended time students, but in describing the unique time needs of different testers, I often describe Julia. I worked with Julia in private tutoring and she could do ACT English with barely any extra time needed. She was great in math probably didn’t need any extended time. I was beginning to wonder, “why do you have extended time?” until we
sat down to do the reading. Julia’s reading and processing was her true testing need. It took her 20-30 minutes to read and answer the 10 questions for a single passage. The ACT reading section has four passages and regular testers are asked to complete those 40 questions in 35 minutes.
Under the old extended time method Julia could take just a little bit of extra time in English and Math, and really focus on reading where she had a diagnosed need for extra time. If she were taking the ACT in September she would only get the 55 minutes for reading, barely enough time to do 50% of the work, but she would be forced to sit for an extra 30 minutes in math where she did not need additional time.
You’ve probably determined I’m not in favor of the changes to extended time for the ACT. The good news is there are some alternatives so if you’ve got a student or you work with students who have a extended time and are going to be negatively impacted by this policy.
All the changes I’ve presented are for the national administration for extended time which is the most common accommodation. But other accommodates are available. If you have a student whose needs are not going to be met under these new policies, work with your school’s guidance counseling department to make a request for different accommodations.
ACT provides a variety of special accommodations including two or three times standard time, testing over multiple days, and even a reader to read test material aloud. If your student will not be able to successfully test with limited breaks or the 1.5 time limits, apply for special testing.
All testing accommodations should come from your school’s guidance counseling or exceptional education department. Your school may not know they can request anything other than the standard extra time, but with appropriate documentation of a mental or physical need, they can. If you are in a homeschool setting, make sure you have your diagnostic materials together from your medical practitioners explaining why you need more than just one and a half times the regular time.
The new ACT extended time policy is not going to be a problem for many students, but some students are going to have to look at getting special accommodations going forward.
If you’re planning on taking the ACT in the fall of 2018 and you’ve had extended time approved in the past, make sure you understand these new changes. Know the test proctor will be cutting you off at the end of each section and telling you to move forward to the next one. You are no longer self pacing or taking your own breaks.
If you have any questions, go ahead and post them here in the comments or on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/collegeprepllc
Good luck to everybody taking the ACT or SAT this year!