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College Board to Offer More Accommodations for Students With Disabilities, ELLs

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By guest blogger Madeline Will

The College Board announced on Thursday that it would make it easier for students with disabilities to request test accommodations, and that it would provide, for the first time, testing supports to some English-language learners who take the SAT.

The College Board and its competitor, ACT Inc., have increasingly faced criticism—and questions from the U.S. Department of Justice—for testing practices that put students with disabilities at a disadvantage compared to students without disabilities.

Earlier this year, the department's civil rights division began to look into the testing organizations' practices after hearing persistent complaints that they reject many requests for accommodations that are routinely provided by schools, such as extra time or frequent breaks. Students who are used to testing accommodations at school typically have to take the exams without them and risk a compromised performance, or, in some states, they can take the tests with their usual accommodations without getting a certified "college-reportable" score.

This has posed challenges for students with disabilities, particularly those in the states that require high school students to take either the SAT or the ACT. 

Now, the College Board has announced, starting on January 1, most students who use testing accommodations at their school through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan will have those same accommodations automatically approved for taking the SAT, the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, the PSAT 10, SAT Subject Tests, and Advanced Placement exams.

School testing accommodation coordinators must now answer just two questions affirmatively to have most students' requests be approved—"Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student's plan?" and "Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?" This change is expected to reduce the approval time for accommodation requests. 

In a statement, David Coleman, the president and CEO of the College Board, said educators, students, and families have been asking for a simpler request process.

"The school staff knows their students best, and we want to cut down on the time and paperwork needed to submit a testing accommodations request," he said. 

Also starting January 1, English-learners who take a state-funded SAT during the school day will receive test instructions in their native language (including Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, and a limited number of other languages initially) and will have access to an approved word-to-word bilingual glossary. In the fall, ELL students taking a state-funded SAT during the school day can also receive more time on the exam (up to time-and-a-half) and will be able to take the test in a room with fewer distractions. 

Only a handful of states fund the SAT during the school day: Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, plus the District of Columbia. The College Board expects to expand its ELL-testing supports to students taking the SAT in all states soon.

"We are excited that Colorado's first statewide SAT administration will mark the first time that English-language learners who use these testing supports on the state's college entrance exam will receive college-reportable scores," said Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessment at the state's education department, in a statement. 

This change comes just a few weeks after ACT Inc. announced it would start providing the same accommodations for English-learners in the fall of 2017. 

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