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Who is Eligible for Testing Accommodations During the PSAT, SAT and ACT?

Accessibility, Education

By: Chloe Plaisance

College entry exams such as the PSAT, SAT, and ACT are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. As such, the test administrators are required to provide testing accommodations to individuals with disabilities. Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or a major bodily function. Neither positive effects of treatments nor academic success can be used to rule out the determination that an individual has a disability. Further guidance on what it means to be a person with a disability is available from the U.S. Department of Justice here.

College Board Exams (PSAT and SAT)

The PSAT and SAT are administered by a non-profit organization called the College Board.  Students who receive disability-related accommodations for in-school tests do not automatically qualify for accommodations on College Board exams, even if they have an IEP or a 504 plan. Rather, each request for accommodations on College Board examinations is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and must be approved by the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities. To approve a request for accommodations, the College Board requires two items: (1) documentation of the student’s disability, and (2) a showing that the disability will affect exam participation. Through this approval process, students usually receive the same accommodations they receive in school.

ACT Exam

The ACT exam is administered by a non-profit company with the same name.  In July 2021, ACT announced a new, streamlined process for determining accommodation eligibility. Beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, individuals who receive testing accommodations through an IEP or 504 Plan are automatically eligible for accommodations on the ACT exam. ACT acknowledged that qualifying for an IEP or 504 plan already requires a rigorous review process, which is sufficient to determine if the student needs supports on standardized tests like the ACT exam.

ACT also provides accommodations for any student without an IEP or 504 Plan who can demonstrate that they have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity,” and make a request for accommodations that is reasonable. According to guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice, in the absence of documentation of prior testing accommodations, testing entities like the ACT should look into the student’s entire history to determine if there is a current need for testing accommodations. This can include diagnoses, recommendations from qualified professionals, evaluation results, observations by teachers, and prior informal accommodations given by the student’s school.

Temporary Conditions and Disabilities

The College Board and ACT differ when it comes to students with temporary disabilities or medical conditions. For the ACT exam, accommodations can be made for students with temporary conditions, such as a broken arm. The College Board, on the other hand, recommends that students reschedule their exams if a temporary condition arises. The College Board only allows accommodations for temporary conditions for high school seniors or students whose conditions will not be resolved by later testing dates.

However, in some cases a temporary condition may meet the ADA’s definition of a disability—­a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or a major bodily function. If a student’s temporary condition qualifies as a disability, the student may not be denied reasonable testing accommodations.

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