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Accommodations Requests: SAT vs. ACT

By July 1, 2021 August 4th, 2021 Accommodations, ACT, College Counseling, Featured, LD, PSAT, SAT

To view this information in a presentation format, watch our Accommodations Webinar.

College Board and ACT offer a variety of testing accommodations for students with disabilities. Two of the most common disabilities that receive testing accommodations, ADHD and learning disabilities (LD), must be diagnosed by specific professionals. For a summary of how LDs are diagnosed, how public and private schools create intervention plans, and the legislation that protects students with disabilities, please review this website by the RTI Action Network

The most popularly requested accommodations include varying increments of extended time, breaks, the use of a computer for typewritten essays, large-print test booklets for visually impaired students, and small group testing for students who have issues with distractibility or anxiety.

English learners whose language proficiency prevents them from fully demonstrating their skills on standardized tests may also qualify for testing supports offered by College Board and ACT (e.g. 50% extended time, word-to-word glossaries, and translated test directions).

Both College Board and ACT continue to make slight adjustments to their accommodations policies each year. In this post, we provide a side-by-side comparison of the request process for both testing agencies.

You can browse the accommodations request deadlines for 2021–22 below.

Accommodations Request Deadlines

College Board (SAT)

Test DatesDeadline
August 28, 2021July 9, 2021
October 2, 2021August 13, 2021
October 13, 16, and 26, 2021
(PSAT/NMSQT)
August 24, 2021
November 6, 2021September 17, 2021
December 4, 2021October 14, 2021
February 21–March 25, 2022*
(PSAT 10 Testing Window)
December 10, 2021*
March 12, 2022January 21, 2022
April 12–April 29, 2022*
(PSAT 10 Testing Window)
February 21, 2022*
May 2-13, 2022
(AP)
March 18, 2022
May 7, 2022March 18, 2022
June 4, 2022April 14, 2022

ACT

Test DatesDeadline
September 11, 2021August 20, 2021
October 23, 2021October 1, 2021
December 11, 2021November 19, 2021
February 12, 2022January 21, 2022
April 2, 2022March 11, 2022
June 11, 2022May 20, 2022
July 16, 2022June 24, 2022

Step 1: Determine Eligibility

Timing: Compass recommends that families consult with school officials and/or private evaluators by January of 10th grade to review the terms of eligibility and to schedule more current evaluations. 

College Board (SAT)

To ensure approval for accommodations, a student’s request should meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • The disability is documented by formal testing completed by a certified evaluator
  • The disability directly affects performance on CB’s assessments
  • The requested accommodations are specifically needed to perform to potential on CB’s assessments

Students may be approved for accommodations on specific sections of the test rather than the entire test. For instance, if a student’s documentation only verifies a math-based learning disability, that student may be approved for extended time on the Math section but not for the Reading and Writing or Essay sections.

ACT

A student is eligible for accommodations if:

  • The disability is diagnosed and documented by a credentialed professional
  • The disability directly impacts performance on ACT’s assessments
  • Documentation for the disability includes information about current or prior accommodations made in similar settings, especially tests in school

After reviewing these criteria, families should consider the two different accommodations packages: National Extended Time and Special Testing.

National Extended Time is most appropriate for students who require no more than 50% extended time on standardized tests.

Special Testing is a “catch-all” for any support request other than 50% extended time. Special Testing is usually administered at a student’s school by a designated Testing Accommodations Coordinator (TAC)  or a nearby site that can provide the desired accommodations. 

Step 2: Gather Documentation

Timing: If educational testing or cognitive evaluations are not current, families should work with their school district or private evaluator to conduct testing between winter of 10th grade and fall of 11th grade. Students planning to take the PSAT/NMSQT with accommodations – or other official tests in the fall of 11th grade – will need to have documentation ready for submission by the end of sophomore year.

College Board (SAT) & ACT

Eligibility for College Board and ACT accommodations hinges on two kinds of documentation: (1) educational and/or neuropsychological testing completed by a school official or a private evaluator and (2) a record of the requested accommodation(s) implemented by the school.

If testing is obtained at the student’s local school district, the results are distilled into an Individualized Education Program (IEP), 504 plan, or Response to Intervention (RTI) plan. IEPs, 504 plans, and RTIs include a student’s formal diagnoses and accommodations that must be implemented by the student’s school. A student will likely be approved for College Board and ACT accommodations if her disability is substantiated by both educational testing and a long-standing school-generated plan.

If a student attends a private school, the family may seek testing at their local school district or an assessment completed by a private evaluator. Private schools will typically consolidate the results of private or district-based assessment into a service plan. A service plan performs a similar function to the IEP, 504 Plan, or RTI, providing school officials and faculty with instructions for accommodating the student’s disability in class. A student at a private school will likely be approved for College Board and ACT accommodations if the disability is well-documented by both a professional evaluation and a service plan.

College Board (SAT)

College Board requires that all educational and/or neuropsychological testing for learning disabilities and ADHD be conducted within the last five years. Testing for visual disabilities must be conducted within two years of the request, while testing for other medical or psychiatric conditions must be completed within one year.

ACT

ACT requires that all educational and/or neuropsychological testing for learning disabilities and ADHD be conducted within the last three years. Testing for visual impairments and psychiatric disorders must be completed within one year of the request.

The Testing Coordinator User Guide for accommodations requires a minimum of two pieces of documentation: 1) diagnosis of disability and 2) an education plan (e.g. IEP, 504 Plan, or service plan).

Step 3: Submit Your Request

Timing: Accommodations requests should be sent electronically by the submission deadlines posted by College Board and ACT. Most students will want to begin preparation at least three months prior to their first official test date, so the sooner a request is approved, the sooner accommodations can be incorporated into preparation plans. To receive accommodations for the most popular test dates (March SAT and February ACT), requests should be submitted by December of 11th grade. 

IMPORTANT: As of Fall of 2021, students with existing IEPs or 504 plans will receive automatic approval for accommodations on the ACT, so long as those accommodations are already articulated by the IEP or 504. Students with private evaluations and learning plans at independent schools may still need to send documentation for approval.

Similarly, depending on the nature of the disability and the desired accommodations, CB requests may *not* require documentation and will qualify for automatic or expedited approval. 

College Board (SAT)

There are two ways a family can submit a request for accommodations:

Option 1: Submit the request online with the assistance of a designated testing coordinator at the student’s school (strongly preferred). If the student has a current IEP, 504 Plan, or service plan with similar accommodations in place, the approval period is greatly expedited: 3 weeks or less. Without a formal education plan in place, College Board will need up to 7 weeks to review ALL documentation before issuing an approval or denial.

Before meeting with the Coordinator, the family should complete the Consent Form for Accommodations Request and keep a copy for themselves.

Option 2: Independently submit the request without the assistance of the school. In this case, the family will need to complete a lengthy Student Eligibility Form and submit all necessary documentation. Independent submission is only recommended for students who are homeschooled or those who do not wish to submit their requests with their schools. It may take up to 7 weeks for the request to be reviewed.

ACT

In order to begin the request process, ACT requires students to register for a test date online. While completing registration, families will be prompted to specify the type of accommodations for which they are applying: National Extended Time or Special Testing

When registration is finished, ACT will automatically email instructions explaining how students should work in collaboration with a testing coordinator at their school to submit an online accommodations request. The online accommodations request system is called the Test Accessibility and Accommodations System (TAA). Before proceeding with the request, the testing coordinator must have a Consent Form signed by the student’s parent or guardian. 

ACT states that the average review period for requests is 10-14 days, but it’s common for Special Testing requests to take longer. This is because testing coordinators are making arrangements with ACT to become a testing site, determine the ideal testing window for their students, or locate an alternate venue that allows for Special Testing.

Examinees who are homeschooled or are not currently enrolled in school must register for a test date and then email ACT for a paper accommodations request form: [email protected]

Step 4: Respond to Decision Letters

Timing: Decision letters should be mailed or emailed to families within 2-7 weeks of submission. If requests are denied, students may electronically appeal decisions with the assistance of their testing coordinator. Appeals will reset the review process.

College Board (SAT)

If accommodations are approved:

The student will be mailed an SSD Eligibility Letter that stipulates the specific accommodations approved for all College Board Tests (i.e. PSAT, SAT, and AP Exams). The letter will also include an SSD code, which the student must input while registering for all official test dates. 

School testing coordinators may locate students’ SSD codes by logging into the online request system, SSD Online.

Students who have a College Board MyOrganizer account will receive the SSD Eligibility Letter and SSD code via email.

Once students requests are approved, they may use the indicated accommodations for all College Board exams. They do not need to re-apply for accommodations for future test dates.

If accommodations are denied:  

The family may begin the appeal process if CB denies accommodations OR approves those that the family deems unsatisfactory. Families should take special care in reviewing the rationale for the denial. Usually, College Board requires additional testing or more specific evidence from a school or evaluator to permit the denied accommodations.

Be aware that once a denied request is reopened, it will take up to 7 weeks to process the appeal.

ACT

If accommodations are approved:

National Extended Time: The testing coordinator receives an electronic decision notification in TAA with an approval message. Unfortunately, students are not automatically notified regarding the status of their requests and may want to check in with their testing coordinator in the weeks following the original submission. Once National Extended Time is approved, students should log in to their ACT accounts and print out their original registration tickets, which should now indicate that extended time is granted. 

Students will NOT need to re-apply for National Extended Time for future test administrations. They simply check a box during the registration process to confirm the use of National Extended Time again.

Special Testing: The testing coordinator obtains an electronic decision notification, reviews the approved accommodations with the student, and makes arrangements for testing (typically on-campus) within the applicable testing window.

If students plans to take the ACT with Special Accommodations in the future, they MUST notify their testing coordinators after registering for each subsequent exam date. The testing coordinator then assigns the students to a test date in the TAA interface and orders the appropriate testing materials.

If accommodations are denied:

Depending on the reasons for denial, students may work with their testing coordinator to submit additional documentation or apply for different accommodations. This is called a reconsideration request. Upon submission of a reconsideration request, the review process restarts, and it may take an additional 6 weeks to hear back from ACT. 

Step 5: Use Your Accommodations

College Board (SAT)

After registering for an official SAT (or any College Board test) with an SSD code, students can expect to have accommodations ready for them on test day. Testers should bring their SSD Eligibility Letters to every single test administration.

ACT

Students with National Extended Time should print out their registration tickets and bring them to the test center. Accommodations will be ready on test day. Students with Special Testing should have ironed out the logistics of exam day (date, time, room location, approved accommodations, etc.) with their testing coordinator in advance of the official test date. Many students with Special Testing will take the ACT at their home schools.

Questions?

As always, we are standing by to answer any of your testing questions and concerns, especially those that pertain to accommodations. If you would like to speak with a director about your student, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Matty Steiner

About Matty Steiner

Prior to joining Compass, Matty obtained their MA from the University of Chicago and a BA from UC Santa Cruz. They have over a decade of experience in the field of test preparation, having worked as an instructor, consultant, and keynote speaker on the topic of admission testing.

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