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GAO Says College-Entrance Exams Fall Short on Accommodations

College entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT aren't always reformatted for students with disabilities the way they should be, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office finds. The same goes for some tests that students need to get into graduate school, medical school, law school, and other programs.

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the standardized tests some colleges require have to offer accommodations, such as more time or changes in the test format, to students with disabilities.

And the federal Department of Justice hasn't done enough to address the complaints lodged by individuals about how the tests are handled for these students, the GAO report says, although it has clarified requirements for the testing accommodations mandated under the ADA.

Testing companies told the GAO that they found it difficult to balance fairness to all test takers, maintaining the reliability of their tests, and accommodating students who need adjustments. Students most often requested more time to take the tests—50 percent more time—and that was the accommodation testing companies granted most often.

Students said they weren't always granted accommodations in the way they expected or the way they were used to being accommodated at school. For example, one testing company told the GAO that if test candidates with ADD or ADHD request extra time on a test, they might instead be granted extra breaks if they are unable to sit still or a separate room if they are easily distracted. Students also said testing companies' requirements for documenting the need for an accommodation was often complicated or unreasonable.

While states and school districts have struggled for years with the same issues around test accommodations, some of those problems are expected to go away because of the new common-core tests, which will be computer-based and are expected have many accommodations built in.

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