College Entrance Exams
If your child is considering college, he will usually need to take and pass college entrance exams. Most colleges will accept either the ACT Assessment or the College Board SAT. Some colleges also require that students take several subject-specific exams, called the SAT II.
The ACT Assessment is a three-hour test containing 215 questions covering topics in English, math, reading, and science. Effective in February 2005, an optional 30-minute writing exam was also made available, which may be required by many colleges. Many students with dyslexia prefer the ACT because questions are more closely tied to the school curriculum.
The ACT is scored by counting all right answers, without deducting points for wrong answers; thus there is no penalty for guessing. Also, ACT reports only test results from a specific test administration; the student designates which test score will be sent to the college. Thus, a student can take the test on several occasions and choose to only report her highest score.
Beginning in March 2005, the SAT will be a three-hour, 20-minute-long test that includes three separate sections on writing, critical reading, and math. The writing section includes multiple-choice questions on grammar and usage, and a student-written essay. The critical reading section includes sentence completions and questions concerning the content of both short and long reading passages. The math section includes concepts taught in college preparatory mathematics up through the third-year level; this generally includes geometry and advanced algebra.
ACT Testing Accommodations
If your child would like accommodations such as extra time to complete the ACT, a written request must be submitted by or before the registration deadline for the exam. A student seeking accommodations such as the use of a large-print test booklet, but who does not need extended time, should submit a written request describing the nature of the disability and the accommodations being requested, and written documentation from his school describing in detail the accommodations he normally receives.
A student seeking extended time must complete a special application which includes documentation of a diagnosis and evaluation completed within three years of the testing dates. A student may receive accommodations that have not previously been given by the school, but the evaluation submitted with the application must explain why such modifications are needed if they were not afforded in the past.
SAT Testing Accommodations
If your child qualifies for special accommodations under an IEP or 504 plan, he may qualify for similar modifications for the SAT or SAT II. These accommodations are also available for the Advanced Placement exams and the PSAT. In order to qualify for such accommodations, your child must meet these criteria:
Must have a disability that necessitates testing accommodations.
Must have documentation on file at school that supports the need for the requested accommodations and meets College Board guidelines for documentation.
Must receive the requested accommodations, due to the disability, for school-based tests.
Your child must submit a request for accommodation well before the date of the exam. In general, the deadlines for requests are about six weeks prior to scheduled test dates, but it is recommended that the student submit the SSD Student Eligibility Form as soon as possible. The accommodations that may be available are as follows:
Extended time. Students who read very slowly may be granted up to 50 percent more time to complete the test; if the student needs an audiocassette version of the test, the student may be granted up to twice the usual amount of time to complete the tests.
Large-format test booklets and/or answer sheets. Students with visual tracking problems may benefit from using an enlarged format answer sheet, rather than the standard Scantron (the familiar fill-in-the-bubble format).
Audiocassette/reader. Students who are not able to read on their own because of very poor decoding skills may qualify for an oral test using audiocassettes; the student is expected to bring his own equipment and to be familiar with using it.
Computer. Students who cannot write the essay section due a documented disability such as dysgraphia may be granted the use of a computer for that portion of the exam only. The grade on the written essay will not be reduced for poor handwriting, so a computer will not be afforded if the student is able to write or print legibly, even if writing is messy.
Extra/extended breaks. Students with attention, concentration, or distractibility problems or who need medication may be granted additional short five- to ten-minute breaks between test sections.
The late Senator Paul Wellstone, who was a professor at one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges for many years before entering politics, had dyslexia and was initially denied entrance to graduate school because of his poor scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE); fortunately, he was able to gain admittance by appealing to a sympathetic dean.
Keep in mind that the College Board requires specific documentation of any learning disability, including recent evaluations by qualified professionals. Students will only be granted accommodations that are similar to modifications that have also been afforded at school; your child will probably not be able to qualify for modifications that are different than he has been routinely afforded in the past.
Not All Colleges Require Exams
Many excellent colleges do not require students to submit standardized test scores. Colleges are becoming increasingly aware that standardized test scores are of dubious value in predicting success rates, especially because they often reflect the level of student preparation through coaching or studying for the test, rather than school achievement. Many students with dyslexia simply do not ever test well, whether or not they receive accommodations.
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing has compiled a list of more than 700 colleges and universities nationwide that admit a substantial number of students without regard to test scores. Their list, available online, includes a wide variety of institutions, from small, private liberal arts colleges to large, public university systems. Colleges that de-emphasize or do not require test scores base their admission decisions on a variety of other factors, including high school academic record, letters of recommendation, application essays, specific talent or accomplishments of the student, or a student portfolio.