Single ACT accommodations test date criticized by parents, school districts and state

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – The ACT is one of the top college readiness tests in the country, but parents, school systems and the Tennessee Department of Education believe students with special needs are at a disadvantage when it comes to taking the ACT and now they’re pushing for what they consider to be more equality.

It’s not the content of the test that’s prompting concerns, but instead the timing of the ACT for students who need accommodations. The ACT gives school districts the option of two two-week windows to test the general student body this year, March 21 and April 19, but only one of those options for kids who need accommodations. Accommodations could include extra time, stop-the-clock breaks or alternate test formats.

The two-week testing window for that group of students starts Wednesday, during the same week many are required to take state tests. Occupational therapist Rosellen Ryals says the current setup doesn’t give students with disabilities a real shot at success.

“They are told this is your only opportunity and the kids go into a real difficult period,” Ryals said. “The anxiety takes over and the learning goes way downhill. They are very smart kids, but when they have this anxiety from changes occurring or piling two different kinds of testing on top of each other, things fall apart for them.”

Ryals says the current situation singles out students with special needs and doesn’t give those students the best chance to shine. Not only that, when their classmates took their ACTs in March, she says they felt marginalized.

“The kids feel very left out and very angry, because all of their peers are doing it and (they’re wondering), ‘What’s wrong with me? Why am I singled out?'” she said. “When you are not set up on your best podium, in your best environment, you’re not going to show off all of the skills that are so strongly there for these kids.”

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Education says the agency has heard the concerns.

“We have been in conversation with ACT around this issue as part of our planning process moving forward to ensure that we continuously improve,” Deputy Communications Director Chandler Hopper said. “We have shared with them that the single accommodations window creates conditions in which students requiring accommodations effectively have fewer testing opportunities than students who do not–this year, the first statewide test date is March 21 but the accommodations window does not begin until April 19, which is our second statewide testing date. Districts have expressed concern and we believe students would be better served by two accommodations windows. We are continuing to work with ACT on this and hope to be able to offer accommodations during all statewide testing dates in the future.”

An ACT spokesperson said the single testing window is standard nationwide, but eventually adding a second accommodations window is not out of the question.

“The idea of moving to two accommodations windows next year is under consideration, but no decision has yet been made,” ACT Senior Media and Public Relations Director Ed Colby said.

Washington County Special Education Supervisor Allecia Frizzell said her district would welcome a second ACT window for students who need accommodations.

“We would absolutely appreciate having a second window,” she said. “It really has put a lot of pressure on the students. If they gave us the second option, that would help give us the flexibility to work around state testing schedules.”

Despite the concerns, Colby said it’s “not quite accurate” to say kids with special needs have fewer opportunities to take the ACT test.

“The accommodations window spans from April 19 to May 3, ensuring that all students who require accommodations have a full two-week window in which to test,” he said. “…In Tennessee, as in other states that administer the ACT to all students, each student is allowed one state-funded test. Students who take the ACT under standard conditions can test on the scheduled make-up date if they miss the initial test date. Students who take the ACT with accommodations must test during the two-week accommodations window, but there is no one day on which they must test.”

Colby said ACT originally scheduled the accommodations testing window for March, but then moved it back to this week at the state’s request. He said the Tennessee Department of Education asked to move it to April 19, since more than half of the state’s schools were on spring break in late March.

“Providing our districts choice and flexibility in their administration of the ACT is an important piece of our commitment to empowering districts in our state,” Hopper said. “Due to scheduling conflicts with spring break this year, some of our largest districts were unable to administer the ACT on the March 21 statewide testing date with the next available statewide testing date being April 19. In order to allow for the largest number of students to test with accommodations during a statewide test date, we worked with the ACT to ensure that students needing accommodations were able to test on the April 19 or May 3 statewide testing date.”

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