By Jed Applerouth, President, Applerouth Tutoring
Many students who utilized testing accommodations for the SAT and ACT will require similar accommodations on graduate school tests, such as the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, and others. The process for securing testing accommodations for graduate-level tests is similar to that for the SAT and ACT, but the primary responsibility for requesting them shifts from school-based disability coordinators to the students themselves.
Historically, it has been more challenging to receive accommodations on graduate tests than it has been to receive similar accommodations on the SAT and ACT. But forces are in play to increase the rates of accommodations on graduate-level tests for students with disabilities.
The College Board and ACT Inc. have respectively reported granting accommodations to 85% and 90% of those students submitting requests, accounting for roughly 3% and 5% of all test takers. Compare that to the graduate exams:
• Accommodations data for the MCAT are not published, but one recent study of medical school applicants by the American Medical Association found that a mere .3% of medical school applicants in the 2011–2013 entering classes received extended time on the MCAT.
• In 2012–2013 there were 1,581 requests for LSAT accommodations and only 729 approved (a 46% acceptance rate, with those receiving accommodations comprising less than 2% of LSAT takers that year).
• In 2010, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which administers the GMAT exam, reported that it received 1,700 requests for testing accommodations in a year that 260,000 tests were administered. In other words, fewer than 1% of GMAT takers in 2010 even requested accommodations. And 90% of those requests were for extended time.
Clearly, far fewer students are even applying for accommodations on graduate level tests, which aligns with research showing that use of academic accommodations declines as students progress through the academic pipeline from secondary to postsecondary education and beyond. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 94% of high school students with a learning disability have some form of accommodation, but that number falls to a paltry 17% in college.
With those trends in mind, independent educational consultants (IECs) can expect that many students who could benefit from accommodations on graduate admissions tests may not even apply for them. That’s where IECs can step in and encourage students with disabilities to advocate for themselves and receive the accommodations they need—accommodations that are supported by federal law.
All testing agencies are beholden to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), under which individuals with a diagnosed disability are entitled to receive necessary and appropriate accommodations. Pursuant to the ADA, the Department of Justice (DOJ) established new guidelines for testing entities in 2010, demanding a more streamlined accommodations process, limiting the burden of disability documentation, and emphasizing that testing entities should use previous accommodations on admissions tests as a guide for decisions about future accommodations.
Demonstrating its commitment to the ADA, the DOJ supported a 2013 lawsuit against the Law School Admissions Council Inc. (LSAC) for discriminatory practices. The LSAC lost an $8.7 million judgment and was obligated to overhaul its accommodations process. Through its conspicuous involvement, the DOJ sent a clear signal to all testing entities that it would vigorously enforce the ADA.
LSAT Accommodations Overhaul
In response to the legal judgement, the LSAC entered into a binding agreement to comply with the ADA and transform its accommodation policies. If a student has received a typical testing accommodation on a prior postsecondary admissions test (e.g., SAT or GRE) for a functional limitation that continues to impact the student, LSAC will offer that student identical or equivalent accommodations (except for multiday accommodations) and require only “proof of the approval for such testing accommodations.”
Even if they have never received prior admissions testing accommodations, students who present evidence of a disability and a functional limitation supported by a diagnosis from a qualified and credentialled professional will be eligible for LSAT accommodations if the professional examinations are recent enough. LSAC will give considerable weight to documentation of past testing accommodations and accommodations granted on IEPs or 504 plans but will not reject an application solely because the candidate has no formal accommodations history.
Following the lawsuit and LSAC’s policy changes, the number of applications for LSAT accommodations submitted and granted have soared. Comparing the 2016–2017 cycle to the previously-mentioned numbers for 2012–2013 tells a compelling story. In 2016–2017, 3,789 students applied for accommodations and 3,000 (79%) of those requests were granted. Although the total number of tests administered remained roughly stable, the number of accommodations applications increased by 140% and the number of accommodations granted increased by 311%. That is progress and good news for students with disabilities.
Types of Accommodations Offered
Students may apply to receive several dozen potential accommodations, including a quiet room; a larger font; a screen reader; use of spell check; additional or longer breaks; voice recognition software; and the ability to bring snacks, check blood sugar, take medication, and more. Requests for extended time account for more than 75% of all accommodations granted and tends to be the catch-all accommodation, particularly for students with cognitive disabilities. Students regularly receive 50% extended time, and some students may receive additional time for more severe disabilities. The accommodation requested must be aligned with a student’s diagnosed disability, and the requirements for documentation (ranging from a medical evaluation to cognitive assessments) will vary according to the disability. The testing entities post their documentation requirements on their respective websites.
Comparing Application Processes
All the major testing entities have moved their primary review processes online, like the College Board and ACT Inc. Some students can handle parts of the process by phone or mail, but online portals are now central to the process for all the testing entities. Typically, students create a user ID, submit their application, and upload or send all their required paperwork to begin the review process. Students will typically be asked to include a history of their past accommodations and supporting documentation particular to their requested accommodation and diagnosed disability.
LSAT. Students must first register for an LSAT exam before they can apply for testing accommodations. Students must submit their request and all documentation in advance of a stated registration deadline for each test. Typically, the LSAC will respond to each request for testing accommodations within 14 business days of its receipt.
GRE. Students must have their accommodations approved by ETS Disability Services before they can schedule a test date. Documentation review takes approximately six weeks once all paperwork has been submitted and an additional six weeks may be required if supporting supplemental documentation is required. For that reason, it’s best to submit the application well before the testing cycle begins. Students who are approved for accommodations will be emailed instructions on how to register for the GRE. Once a student is approved for GRE accommodations, they can use the online PowerPrep tool to simulate GRE tests with extra time, breaks, screen magnification, colors, a screen reader, and more.
MCAT. Students must submit a request for a testing registration and accommodations through the MCAT online portal, where they will identify their disability, their history with the disability, and previous accommodations received. A student must also complete a personal statement about his or her functional limitation, history of accommodation, and what accommodations would “level the playing field” on the MCAT.
The MCAT portal specifies what types of evaluations are required according to the nature of the student’s impairment. The evaluation must be current, which means no older than three years for cognitive impairments. Most requests for accommodations will be reviewed within 60 days of submission, but reconsideration, appeals, or extensions may take an additional 30 days. The student will be notified of the outcome of the review along with the period of eligibility for any accommodation granted. Students must submit requests by specific deadlines to be eligible to receive accommodations on particular test dates.
GMAT. Students must receive approval for an accommodation before they can register for a GMAT exam with accommodations. Students must complete the application and send it with all supporting materials by fax or mail to GMAT Disability Services. They will receive confirmation letters upon receipt. GMAC will attempt to complete the review process within 25 business days and send a written decision within 30 days. The decision may take six to eight weeks total. Once the request is approved, a student will be able to schedule accommodated testing for the GMAT.
Encourage your students to seek accommodations early for their graduate school admissions tests. If they have already received prior testing accommodations, it will be a familiar process. And their odds of securing testing accommodations have increased substantially in recent years.