The Granting (and Denial) of Accommodations by ETS, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and Bar Association

Test accommodations have been provided for students with obvious physical handicaps for decades, but only in recent years has the granting of accommodations for ‘invisible’ conditions become commonplace. The term ‘invisible’ is used to describe those conditions which are felt and defined in the DSM-5, and not outwardly apparent to the naked eye. These include dyslexia (Reading Disorder), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, and non-verbal learning disorder, these being the most common. Testing with standardized psychological tests detects these conditions and differentiates them from felt experience alone.

The right for students to have accommodations is granted under the IDEA, a department of education mandate to afford students with special needs the opportunity to reach their potential. Once a student turns 18, this right then falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Parents are often frustrated when test accommodations are not readily granted from the ETS if their child has received a diagnosis from a professional. To allow a peek behind the curtain, I will explain their reasoning. To be granted accommodations a student must demonstrate two things: a diagnosed condition AND a limitation on functioning. It is necessary but not sufficient to report a condition of, for example, ADHD. The evaluator must additionally document how the condition limits functioning, particularly as related to the task at hand (testing). This makes sense given that the population of students who sit for tests may have all manner of conditions -eg, diabetes, Irritable bowel syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome -the list is endless, but most will not request accommodations. You yourself may have a health condition but this alone may not cause you trouble on standardized tests. In any group of students, a substantial portion will have some type of diagnosable condition. However, this condition may have little to no impact on test-taking. The reviewers for testing boards read the psychological and learning evaluations ensuring that these two conditions are met. A minor measured weakness in reading speed will not suffice, a student must demonstrate a substantial pattern of difficulty in functioning, as documented by a professional, based upon statistical data and felt history.

Parents want to support their children in alleviating stress and extra time can be one method. Accommodations may be appropriate but a psychological report must document the history and factors which make it so, in the form of: formally diagnosing a recognized condition, detailing how that condition limits functioning, and relating it to the task at hand -i.e., -test-taking. When these conditions are met, the testing boards usually ‘get it right,’ and grant reasonable accommodations as intended under the law.