Acknowledging the mixed feelings educators have about standardized testing, they can be a good tool for measuring student learning, by allowing schools to compare students using a single benchmark. However, as educators, we also know that the same test, given the same way to all students, does not necessarily mean it has been made equally accessible. Enter testing accommodations.
Both the College Board and the ACT have realized the need to adjust the administration of their tests so that students of all abilities have a fair shot at demonstrating their knowledge. These test accommodations level the playing field, not by changing the content of the tests, but by ensuring that the administering of the test itself does not interfere with a student’s performance.
The two populations that qualify for accommodations are students with disabilities, and students who are English language learners.
ACT Accommodations for Students With Disabilities
The motivation behind providing accommodations to students with disabilities is leveling the the playing field for students capable of going to college, but who may struggle with test taking on account of mental and/or physical disabilities.
The ACT provides a comprehensive PDF on ACT Policies for Accommodation Documentation, an outstanding reference detailing the specific types of disabilities and documentations necessary for receiving accommodations. For the sake of brevity though, you can boil it down to this: you’ll need to prove it.
Because the ACT is a standardized test, it’s understandable that the test administrators are protective of the level playing field they’ve created. In order to justify accommodations that aren’t available to every student, the ACT requires notation of whether or not a student has received academic accommodations previously.
Proof of need for accommodations is most often satisfied by an Individual Education Program (IEP), Section 504 Plan, or other official accommodation plan. If the student has not received academic accommodations prior, the school needs to provide a detailed explanation, outlining the need for the accommodations specific to the ACT.
Types of accommodations for students with disabilities:
Once requests for ACT accommodations are submitted (directions linked later), students are eligible for one of three types of accommodations:
- Accommodations with no extra time: These accommodations include but are not limited to: larger print test booklets or other visual support cues, a testing room with wheelchair access, medical supplies in the testing room, etc.
- Extended testing time: Extended time on the ACT is time-and-a-half, which provides five hours total for the ACT or 5 hours and 45 minutes for the ACT plus writing component.
- Special testing: Special testing involves testing accommodations for students with severe physical or mental disabilities. Unlike taking the ACT in a testing center, special testing usually takes place at the student’s school, sometimes spanning several days. Special testing can also involve taking the test in braille, having the test read aloud to the student, or the student using a computer to take the test. In these cases, it’s not uncommon for a combination of several accommodations to be provided to the student.
Teachers should also be aware that since special testing typically happens during the school day, students eligible for it will be missing class. We recommend coordinating with fellow instructors to determine how best to support the student to ensure they don’t miss out on too much.
ACT Accommodations for English Language Learners
As of 2017, English language learners (ELL), or students who do not speak English as a first language, became eligible for ACT accommodations. This was an important step for students who have the abilities to pass the test, but who may struggle to do so when also translating from English. With this population estimated at 9.4% of the US public school population, this is no small subset of students who now can receive accommodations.
The ACT itself acknowledges the growing number of students who speak English as a second (or third) language. In the comprehensive PDF on ACT Policy for English Learner Supports Documentation,
“These supports are designed to improve access and equity for those students whose proficiency in English might prevent them from fully demonstrating the skills and knowledge they have learned in school. The number of English learners is growing in our country and ACT is committed to improve access and opportunity for them and all underserved learners.”
Accommodations for English language learners were in put in place not only because of the volume of students who qualify, but in part because English is widely considered one of the hardest languages to master and requires more time to gain proficiency than many other languages. This is particularly true for students new to the United States who are learning English on top of acclimating to an entirely new culture and education system.
To qualify for ELL accommodations, schools must attest and provide proof of a student’s:
- Difficulty in reading, writing or speaking English that results in the inability to fully participate in an English-speaking classroom, meet state standards, or participate fully in society.
- Enrollment in an ELL support program at their school
- Results from an English language proficiency test showing reflecting a lack of English proficiency
- Receipt of support in school via a formal learning plan
Types of accommodations for English language learners
Currently, ACT accommodations for ELL Students include, but are not limited to:
- Instructions provided in the student’s native language
- Additional testing time
- Testing in a separate room (either solo or in a small group)
- The use of a bilingual glossary
Requesting Accommodations and/or English Learner (ELL) Supports
Directions for requesting ACT accommodations and this ACT accommodations checklist can be found on the ACT website. The application is divided into two parts. The first requires that the student make a request for accommodations online. Once the request email is received, the school must make the official request. Providing class time to students to make these requests is a good idea, since students may otherwise not know about this option, or lack the internet access required to initiate the process.
Once the request is received, the ACT will review the request and respond with a decision, typically within 2 weeks of the request date.
One of the best things you can do as a teacher is to be on the lookout early on for students who may require accommodations on the ACT based on accommodations they may receive in school or in your class. It’s important to get out in front of these accommodations requests so that students don’t miss the deadline and forfeit taking the test.
It’s likely that you will encounter both students with disabilities and ELL students as you prepare your classes for the ACT. Luckily, the College Board has recently made it easier for students to get ACT accommodations overall, by streamlining the online process and triggering automatic accommodations for students with Individualized Education Plans.
Now that you have a general idea of how to best guide your students through the accommodations request process, we’d also recommend taking a moment to look at how you can prepare your students for these accommodations in class. Would it be helpful to offer them more time to complete in-class exams and quizzes? Do some students require a bilingual glossary during regular classwork? Remember, ACT accommodations that level the playing field on the test can be just as valuable in your everyday classroom!