My daughter Carter has , and . To be academically successful, she must plan for all potential bumps and roadblocks. That includes the PSAT and the SAT, college entrance exams administered by the College Board.
Because Carter isn’t a fluent reader, she knew she needed access to audio in case she ran across words she couldn’t figure out on these tests. She also knew she needed extra time and a smaller group setting to reduce distractions. (These accommodations were already in her for regular school tests.)
Both Carter and I try to be proactive. So we started reading up on how to get access to PSAT and SAT accommodations when she was in middle school.
I eventually learned we needed a nine-month cushion before the date of testing to apply (in case we needed to appeal a rejection for accommodations). I panicked. Carter was in eighth grade and was going to take the PSAT in October of ninth grade. So there wasn’t much time.
I contacted the College Board about accommodations. They told me my daughter’s middle school should submit the request. I then contacted her middle school counseling department, who said I should talk to the local high school. But when I spoke to the high school, they said Carter wasn’t a student there yet and we’d have to wait. I was incredibly confused.
We started talking to other parents. We learned that each high school in our district decided what accommodations a student received for the PSAT and SAT. Parents needed to make a request to the school for their child to get accommodations. And some of the high schools made the decision that all students with disabilities would take the PSAT without accommodations “to see how they did.”
I was actively searching for answers. And I felt like I was making some progress in finding the right people to help Carter get accommodations for her PSAT and SAT.
But what about parents who don’t know that they should be asking these questions? I thought. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the school district to automatically apply for accommodations on behalf of kids with 504 plans and IEPs?
So I reached out to other parents, and we decided to do something about it.
We had a long history of partnering with administrators in our school district. That made it easy to reach out to the district’s dyslexia specialist. We described our concern about kids taking the SAT not having access to the same accommodations in place on their IEPs and 504 plans. We suggested updating the district’s policy.
While we were working with our school district, other parents were advocating for change at the national level with the College Board. They succeeded. In January 2017, the College Board streamlined their process for accommodations. Before the change, kids needed lots of extra documentation when requesting accommodations. Under the College Board’s new policy, accommodations on an IEP or 504 plan can now be used on the SAT or PSAT without additional paperwork.
This was an important change—one that our school district embraced. However, it was still a problem that not all parents knew that they needed to apply for accommodations.
That’s why it’s so great that the school district adopted our suggestion about automatically requesting accommodations, too.
With collaboration from many in the district, a new accommodations policy was developed. Under the policy, each high school in our school district will identify all kids with IEPs and 504 plans, including rising ninth graders. The schools will automatically apply to the College Board for PSAT and SAT accommodations on behalf of these students. (This will all be handled by each high school’s SSD, or Services for Students With Disabilities.)
Now, our schools will act as expert resources in an area that’s completely new to incoming freshmen in high school.
Change is often sparked by the initial negative experiences of those who come before us. I’m often frustrated that kids with learning and thinking differences seem to hit unnecessary roadblocks in a world built for typically developing students. Yet I’m hopeful that the advocacy we do today will make it easier for the students of tomorrow. I can’t wait for the day when my future grandchildren head into this school district and find it supportive of all kinds of learners!
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About the author
Shannon Duncan lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three children. Her youngest has dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD.