The Prevalence of Extended Time Accommodations

More and more students with disabilities are getting extra time on important tests like the SAT and ACT. This is called an accommodation. The number of students receiving accommodations has increased significantly in recent years. In 2019, over 200,000 students asked for accommodations on the SAT, which is 171% more than 10 years ago. However, there are significant problems with test accommodations.

Extra time is given to students with many different disabilities, like ADHD, learning disorders, anxiety, slow processing speed, and vision problems. Usually, they get either 50% more time (4.5 hours for a 3-hour test) or 100% more time (6 hours). The goal is to make the test fair and ensure that a student’s score reflects their true abilities, not the limitations caused by their disability.

While many people believe that giving extra time is a good way to help all students with disabilities, some experts are concerned that this one-size-fits-all approach may not be the best solution. There are problems with test accommodations. They think that extra time is sometimes given to students who don’t really need it, and it might not actually help certain students, especially those who struggle with attention or get tired easily. The following sections will explore these potential problems in more detail.

The Importance of Accessibility and Equity

problems with test accommodations - colorful drawing of a sign that reads "Equal Opportunity"

Ensuring everyone has a fair opportunity is crucial. This involves providing necessary support so all can participate equally. Accessibility allows access regardless of abilities, while equity provides individualized resources for an equal chance at success.

Some students require accommodations for tests and exams due to disabilities or learning differences. A student with dyslexia may need more time, while a physically disabled student may need an alternate response method. Accommodations level the playing field, not provide advantages. The goal is equal opportunity to showcase knowledge and skills.

Imagine if you had to take a test while wearing a blindfold or with your hands tied behind your back. That wouldn’t be fair, would it? Accommodations are like removing those obstacles so that everyone can participate and do their best. At the same time, it’s important to make sure that the accommodations are appropriate and don’t give an unfair advantage to some students over others.

It’s a delicate balance, but one that’s essential for ensuring accessibility and equity in education. By promoting accessibility and equity in testing and education, we can create a more inclusive and just system that values and supports the diverse needs and abilities of all students.

Potential Negative Impacts of Extended Time for Certain Disabilities

Extra time on tests is supposed to help students with disabilities, but it might actually cause problems for some, especially those who have trouble paying attention, work slowly, or feel anxious. Sitting for a long time, like 4.5 hours instead of 3 hours, can make it even harder to focus. Students with ADHD or other concentration issues may struggle to keep up their work for that long, getting mentally tired and not doing as well by the end.

Extra time may not address the main problems some students have. A student who works slowly might benefit more from fewer questions per page or using technology to help them rather than just getting more time. Similarly, a student who gets distracted easily may do better in a separate, quieter room than only getting extra time. For students who feel anxious or have low self-esteem, getting extra time might make them feel more stressed and embarrassed, leading to worse performance on the test.

Giving extra time to all students with disabilities may not be the best approach. Using the same solution for everyone, instead of considering each student’s specific needs, might accidentally make things harder for some students. The next part will examine research studies to see how effective extra time really is for students with different types of disabilities.

Lack of Empirical Support for Extended Time

Many students with disabilities get extra time on tests, but there isn’t much research showing that it actually helps them do better, especially for students with ADHD. Some studies suggest that giving extra time might not help students with disabilities more than it helps students without disabilities.

Studies have found that extra time might not help students with ADHD as much as those without ADHD and that students with more serious ADHD symptoms may benefit less than those with milder symptoms. One particularly worrying study found that elementary school students with ADHD finished fewer problems when given extra time, possibly because it lowered their sense of urgency and motivation.

These studies show that accommodations need to be carefully chosen to match each student’s specific needs, as a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work well. While extra time might help some students, research shows it’s not a perfect solution for the challenges students with ADHD face. Other accommodations targeting attention, impulsivity, and processing speed issues may work better, such as testing in a separate room, allowing breaks, and using assistive technology.

More research is needed to identify which accommodations help students with ADHD perform better on tests. For now, decisions about accommodations should be made individually for each student based on their specific needs and challenges, as giving extra time to all students with ADHD is not supported by research and might accidentally make things harder for them.

Potential for Abuse and Unfairness

Extra time on tests is crucial for some students with disabilities. However, there are worries that more and more students, especially from wealthy families, are getting extra time when they don’t truly need it. The number of students receiving extra time has gone up a lot in recent years, making some people think that clever parents might be using the system to give their kids an unfair advantage on important tests.

In 2003, the College Board stopped marking SAT scores earned with accommodations like extra time, making it easier for students to get accommodations without colleges knowing. This may result in some students getting extra time they don’t need while others with real disabilities are denied accommodations. Studies also suggest that extra time might benefit wealthier students more than poorer students, even with similar grades and test scores, potentially widening the achievement gap.

There are serious concerns about students getting accommodations they don’t really need or being unfairly denied accommodations they do need. This is particularly worrying because standardized test scores are so important for students’ futures. If some students get an unfair advantage while others are disadvantaged, it undermines the validity and fairness of the entire testing system for everyone.

The Need for More Targeted, Individualized Accommodations

problems with test accommodations - drawing of a female student holding a sign that reads "I am an individual"

Many students with disabilities get extra time on tests, but schools often give the same amount to everyone. This one-size-fits-all approach might not help each student with their specific needs, especially those with ADHD, slow processing speed, or anxiety.

For students with ADHD, just giving more time might not help with their main problems, like paying attention, controlling impulses, and remembering information. They might do better with accommodations that reduce distractions and help them focus, such as taking the test in a quiet room, using noise-blocking headphones, or taking short breaks to refocus.

Students with anxiety might feel worse with extra time because it makes the stressful test last longer. They may benefit more from accommodations that help them feel less anxious, like taking breaks, holding a calming object, or splitting the test into shorter sessions.

To provide good accommodations, it’s important to understand what each student needs by looking at test results and evaluations and listening to teachers, parents, and students. Rather than just giving extra time to everyone, providing different kinds of support based on each student’s specific challenges can make testing fair and equal, allowing all students to show what they know and can do.

Final Thoughts

Many students with disabilities get extra time on important tests, but some people question if this is always helpful. Just giving every student with a disability more time might not address their specific needs, especially for students with ADHD, who work more slowly, or who have a lot of anxiety. In some cases, extra time could even make things worse by causing more fatigue or stress, leading to poorer performance on the test.

The process of getting extra time on tests like the SAT and ACT has some issues. Students from wealthier families are more likely to receive extra time than those from poorer families, which raises concerns about fairness. This disparity might make test scores less accurate and could even widen the achievement gap between rich and poor students.

To make accommodations truly fair for all students, a more individualized approach is necessary. Instead of giving everyone extra time, we should carefully assess each student’s needs, considering input from teachers, parents, and the students themselves. Some students might benefit from other types of support, like testing in a distraction-free room or using assistive technology.

The key is to match the accommodation to how each student’s disability affects them, based on evidence and what works best for each person. This approach will create an equitable and inclusive testing system that allows all students to show their true potential, regardless of their disabilities or challenges.