After reading this recent piece in the Chicago Tribune about students getting accommodations on the ACT, I couldn't help but wonder what the picture looks like nationally.
The Tribune's Diane Rado was able to drill down to the school level to find out how many students were getting extra time or other accommodations, factors that can make a big difference on the test, taken by all high school juniors in Illinois.
At one high school, she found that 1 in 6 test takers were granted extra time or a special testing format.
Nationally, as the number of students taking the ACT has increased in the last four years, so has the number of students asking for, and getting, extra time or other accommodations when taking the exam, the testing agency told me.
During the 2010-11 school year, 5 percent of all test takers were provided with some feature that was intended to adapt the test to their needs, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said, compared with 3.5 percent of test takers in the 2007-08 school year.
The numbers of requests have been rising among SAT takers, too, along with an increase in test takers overall. Once students are approved for an accommodation, they don't have to reapply. Of new requests—almost 80,000 during the 2010-11 school year, compared with 10,000 fewer five years earlier—about 85 percent are approved, said Kathleen Steinberg, the spokeswoman for the College Board. The ACT said roughly 90 percent of requests made are granted.
While the Tribune story delved into whether accommodations are too common, a Government Accountability Office report from late last year found that for some students with documented disabilities, getting accommodations can be a hassle. The testing companies have said that they have to be judicious in doling out special testing conditions to keep things fair.
Both companies said students with learning disabilities, followed by students with ADHD, are the most common among those requesting an adjustment to their testing experience. Most students want extra time, and in the last year, the SAT said at least one student was given four times the amount of time given to other testers to take the exam.
But are all students with learning disabilities or ADHD being accommodated? Or just the ones who can navigate the lengthy, and potentially costly, process? As I just wrote, the GAO found that sometimes getting the proper assessments testing companies require can cost from $500 to $9,000.
The newspaper analysis found that in the case of Illinois juniors taking the ACT, "schools in wealthy enclaves with predominantly white students were at the top of the list when it comes to students getting ACT testing accommodations." The colleges that students apply to are never told if a student was granted any alternate conditions for taking the test.