SAT/ACT Requests for Extended Time: The Importance of Documenting Functional Limitations

If you believed that after spending a significant amount of money having your student evaluated, and having that evaluation result in a diagnosable condition, you will automatically be granted approval of your request for extended time on the SAT or ACT, you may be very disappointed. It is has become increasingly more common for the evaluators to reject first requests because of the absence of evidence of a functional limitation.
This is because simply being diagnosed with a learning disability or ADD is a necessary, but not sufficient basis for granting extended time accommodations. Specifically, if your student, despite a diagnosable condition, earns grades that are at least within the average range, the SAT/ACT evaluators may very well conclude that whatever the deficit may be, it is not functionally limiting your student from performing at least as well as his/her peers. The evaluators do not consider the amount of time a student spends in preparing for an exam or the degree of effort needed unless this is specifically documented. What they see, are solid grades and evaluation test scores and nothing else. To go even further, the evaluators may disregard relative weaknesses (i.e. variability) found in evaluations as they consider these only relative to the students themselves. Yet, if they are still earning at least average scores or grades, these relative weaknesses are not considered to be functional limitations.
Functional limitation is defined as the degree to which a student’s performance is affected by a disorder. This should not be confused with the test scores that result from an evaluation. The test scores may prove to be one source of evidence for a functional limitation. However, the evaluators appear to be looking for other additional sources of data that document student limitations in school, at work, etc. One good source for this information is a teacher who can document how students’ deficits influence their performance in class. The SAT even provides a teacher survey form for this purpose. For example, teachers can describe the need for extended time on exams by documenting how students’ are unable to complete tests in the allotted time. An IEP or 504 plans may be another source of evidence.
As noted above, it is important to also document the time and effort a student expends to earn those grades. In fact, this is part of one of the laws that govern the eligibility of student’s for accommodations. Yet, if your request does not effectively make a case for how this time and effort represents a functional limitation, it will not be considered and, most likely, your request will be denied.
What can you do if your request is rejected? You will need to file an appeal that presents new information about functional limitations, do more testing to prove a functional limitation exists, or all of the above. You will need to also have the appeal written by a professional who understands how these things work and can present a credible case on your students’ behalf. At times, it is even necessary to involve an attorney if an appeal fails.
As a professional who not only conducts psycho-educational and neuropsychological evaluations, but also one who understands how reports have to written to document functional limitations and how, if necessary, to write a successful appeal, including the applicable laws that govern the granting of accommodations, I have done quite a few of these appeals with good success.

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