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Changes to ACT Extended Time Take Effect with the September 2018 Exam

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?

Fairness

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.

Alternatives

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.

Conclusion

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!

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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.