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Accommodations Requests: SAT vs. ACT

By January 1, 2019 November 21st, 2019 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.

The most popularly requested accommodations include varying increments of extended time, 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. Before diving in, you can browse the accommodations request deadlines for 2019-20 below.

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Accommodations Request Deadlines

College Board (SAT)

Test DatesDeadline
August 24, 2019
(SAT & SAT Subject Tests)
July 5, 2019
October 5, 2019
(SAT & SAT Subject Tests)
August 16, 2019
October 16, 19, and 30, 2019
(PSAT/NMSQT)
August 27, 2019
November 2, 2019
(SAT & SAT Subject Tests)
September 13, 2019
December 7, 2019
(SAT & SAT Subject Tests)
October 18, 2019
February 24–March 27, 2020
(PSAT 10 Testing Window)
December 13, 2019
March 14, 2020
(SAT)
January 24, 2020
April 13–April 30, 2020
(PSAT 10 Testing Window)
February 21, 2020
May 4-8, 11-15, 2020
(AP)
January 17, 2020
May 2, 2020
(SAT & SAT Subject Tests)
March 13, 2020
June 6, 2020
(SAT & SAT Subject Tests)
April 17, 2020

ACT

Test DatesDeadline
September 14, 2019August 30, 2019
October 26, 2019October 4, 2019
December 14, 2019November 22, 2019
February 8, 2020
January 17, 2020
April 4, 2020March 13, 2020
June 13, 2020May 22, 2020
July 18, 2020June 26, 2020

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 Testing Coordinator (TC) 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, she may seek testing at her school district or an assessment completed by a private evaluator. Private schools will typically consolidate the results of private or district-based assessments 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 her 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.

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: ACT requests for accommodations *must* be submitted with documentation in order to be approved. Conversely, 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 SSD Coordinator at the student’s school (strongly preferred by College Board). 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 TC 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 TC 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 TCs are making arrangements with ACT to become a testing site, determine the ideal testing window for 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.

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 a TC or SSD 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, Subject Tests, and AP Exams). The letter will also include an SSD code, which the student must input while registering for all official test dates. 

SSD 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 a student’s request is approved, she may use the indicated accommodations for all College Board exams. She does not need to re-apply for accommodations for future test dates.

If accommodations are denied:  

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

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 TC 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 TCs in the weeks following the original submission. Once National Extended Time is approved, the student should log in to her ACT account and print out her original registration ticket, which should now indicate that extended time is granted. 

The student will NOT need to re-apply for National Extended Time for future test administrations. She simply needs to check a box during the registration process, indicating that she would like to use National Extended Time again.

Special Testing: The TC 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 a student plans to take the ACT with Special Accommodations in the future, she MUST notify her TC after registering for each subsequent exam date. The TC then assigns the student to a test date in the TAA interface and orders the appropriate testing materials.

If accommodations are denied:

Depending on the reasons for denial, a student may work with her TC 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 CB 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

A student with National Extended Time should print out his registration ticket and bring it 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 TAC far 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.

Matt Steiner

About Matt Steiner

Prior to joining the Compass team, Matt obtained an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. They have a decade of experience in the field of test preparation, working for multiple well-regarded private tutoring firms. Matt currently teaches graduate-level lectures on college admission testing through UC San Diego, UCLA, and UC Irvine. In their instruction and public speaking, Matt endeavors to build transparency around college admission tests.

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