By Davis Anderson ’20 News Reporter
Although most people in this day and age have heard of testing accommodations, those not directly affected may not know how the system works. Put simply, in some cases the basic rules of a standardized test are changed when it’s decided that a student needs accommodations to perform to their potential.
In my case, I was given the most common accommodation for the most common of reasons. I have ADHD, (Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder.) My accommodations give me 50% extra time per section. That diagnosis and that accommodation go together because the most basic symptom of ADHD is the inability to focus. Especially in subjects like math, it takes me longer to do a problem than most people, but it doesn’t affect my ability to do a problem. On a standardized test, even 50% extra time doesn’t necessarily remove the time crunch for most students with ADHD. When taking sections like reading and science, I always finished before the normal time limit. On English, I would use around half of my extra time. However, with math, I always used all of the time I had, and normally had to rush through the last few questions.
Some may feel that testing accommodations give students an unfair advantage. I understand their suspicion, as the time constraint is often a factor that students practice and prepare for. I’m not sure if there is a definitive answer to what kind of advantage it gives, but I can give my personal experience. I prepared for and took the ACT. I took two practice tests without extra time, three practice tests with extended time, and the ACT with extended time twice. Based on my scores on those tests, it seems that when I had more time, I averaged one point higher than when I did not. So, in my case it doesn’t seem that testing accommodations have given me a real advantage over other students. Some might ask, “If they don’t give much of an advantage, why have them at all?” and while this might be valid in a case like mine, testing accommodations exist in other forms as well.
On the broad spectrum of ADHD cases, mine is pretty mild and pretty common, and so are my accommodations. As you might imagine, students with more serious conditions get more serious accommodations. One example of this might be narcolepsy. People with narcolepsy are prone to falling asleep unprompted, which could happen in the middle of a sentence, a meal, or a standardized test. To give someone with this condition a standardized test without accommodations might completely hide their talent.
Accommodations also carry stigma, seen as an indication that there is something wrong with the people who use them. I remember once walking over to the college counseling center (where students with accommodations take standardized tests). I overheard some students laughing and calling the group walking over for extra-timed testing “the special needs kids.” While they were obviously using that phrase in a derogatory sense, I guess they’re not technically wrong. Though the stigma doesn’t bother me, I know it bothers others, and I hope that my peers with accommodations know that they are not any lesser for having their genuine testing needs met.