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Managing the Testing Environment Q and A

Answers to Managing the Testing Environment Questions

1. The student's accommodation is extra time on exams. If the student decides s/he wants to take the exam in the classroom instead of the Testing Center, does the instructor have to make time and find a place for the student to complete the exam? Do instructors have the prerogative to mandate the use of the Testing Center because they do not want to arrange and/or supervise testing accommodations?

First, it is not appropriate to leave such decisions to instructors. Remember, faculty should not be permitted to make unilateral decisions regarding the accommodations students receive. See Southern New University, No. 01-14-2016 (OCR May 2014). The issue is not one of instructor prerogative; but, rather what provides effective accommodations for students with disabilities while not subjecting them to unnecessary different treatment. It is impermissible to adopt an administrative rule that under all circumstances would deny a student the right to take his/her exam within the department environment. The institution is obligated to conduct an individualized assessment to determine what would be an effective accommodation and absolute rules do not permit you to conduct the necessary individualized assessment. If a student objects to taking tests or exams in the Testing Center s/he should have the right to a fair hearing on the matter. For example, if an instructor entertains questions during the exam and students with disabilities taking the exam in the Testing Center do not have the opportunity to either ask questions or to benefit from answers given to others because they are not in the class then that is a legitimate complaint or concern. The important point is if there are circumstances under which the student can only be provided effective accommodations within the classroom environment then steps must be taken to accommodate the student in that environment.

2.What is the proper response to a student approved for extended time for quizzes and tests (double time) who subsequently argues that he is entitled to extended time on assignments? The class is an accelerated distance education class that is 8 weeks in duration and requires that students participate in discussions, respond to classmates and write a research paper.

It is not clear from the question whether the student provided documentation that supported the need for extended time on assignments. The mere fact that the student is approved for extended time on tests does not establish entitlement to extended time regarding all academic work and projects. Second, if the provision of extended time results in the student not being able to satisfy essential course requirements (i.e., participate in class discussions and/or projects, complete a research paper that is a necessary part of peer review and discussions, etc.) then the provision of extended time, under such circumstances, would not be reasonable. Therefore, important questions that need be answered are a) what extended time, if any, does the documentation support and b) what is the impact of providing extended time on the student’s ability to meet essential course requirements?

3.Is it fair to place a student who suffers has claustrophobia in a room less than 10 by 10 for testing in order to meet the student’s need to listen to music?

This situation can only be resolved through proper use of the interactive process. In discussions with the student you should resolve whether the size of the room is problematic and/or whether alternative accommodations such as the student wearing headphones in a larger room with other test-takers, being permitted to take breaks to step out of the room or leaving the door open would work.

4a.Can we institute a “no tolerance” policy for cheating in our Testing Center, (i.e., students found guilty would forfeit the rights to accommodations for cheating)?

 b.If a student cheats do they forfeit that accommodation for that class and that semester overall?

Students with disabilities are not exempt from the application of the disciplinary codes of conduct and standards of behavior that all students must adhere to. Therefore, the institution should enforce the same rules and apply the same penalties as all students are subjected to who are accused of and subsequently found to be guilty of cheating. However, to deny students with disabilities “found guilty” of subsequent accommodations would, arguably be imposing an additional and extremely severe penalty on those students which is not available as a sanction against non-disabled students. Query: Are non-disabled students denied the right to ever take another exam or test after they serve imposed disciplinary sanctions for cheating? Arguably, your “no tolerance” policy is in effect a measure that would deprive students with disabilities of the right to be appropriately and fairly tested in the future. It goes well beyond the sanctions imposed upon non-disabled students and sets the institution up for a charge of discrimination based upon different treatment.

Any further action taken must be viewed not from a punitive perspective; but, from the perspective of fashioning effective accommodations. To wit, student with disabilities are obligated to exercise due diligence to make the accommodation process work; which includes using accommodations properly. Thus, you can argue that the student’s behavior warrants revisiting the question of what would be effective accommodations including the manner in which s/he receives accommodations in the future. However, if you choose such an approach, any alterative means of accommodating the student that you identify must be effective.

5a.If the Testing Center is limited on space and the student submits their request without appropriate notice, how do we address accommodating the student appropriately?

 b.So, do we now need to essentially need to have walk-in testing centers? Students can (and, in my experience, quite often) opt to take the exam with the class like any other student. Isn’t it reasonable to ask students to give us advance notice so that we’re not holding limited space unnecessarily? And what about reasonable notice for faculty as to whether or not they need to send an exam to the testing center?

The methods of administration that an institution chooses to use in providing test accommodations to students with disabilities is within the discretion of the institution with the provisos that students must be provided effective accommodations and the process and procedures utilized may not be unduly burdensome for students. OCR ruled in Florida Atlantic University, No. 04-11-2068 (OCR 08/2011) that the University’s test accommodation procedures that required the student to fill out a test accommodation form a week prior to every quiz or exam in each class; although previously approved for academic adjustments at the beginning of the semester, constituted “noncompliance with Section 504 and Title II.” OCR specifically noted that the student “should not have to fill out a testing accommodation form a week prior to each quiz or test as a precondition to receiving academic adjustments that were already approved.”

The problem with most rules or requirements that place responsibility on students to provide notice that they intend to use previously approved test accommodations for each and every test, exam or quiz is that, with the exception of third party accommodations such as the use of an interpreter or reader or the need to place materials in an alternate format, such rules or requirements are unrelated to the specific, particular accommodation needs of individual students. They are, instead, used to address the fact that institutions have limited or a lack of sufficient resources devoted to the test accommodation process. In essence, students are being asked to shoulder the burden of what is an institutional problem and depending on the size of that burden it is, arguably, just another version of impermissibly passing the cost of the accommodation on to students.

Therefore, it is important to address this institutional administrative problem, in a manner that does not require students with disabilities to shoulder an inequitable amount of the burden. Specifically, if space is limited in the Testing Center and/or disability services office, other methods should be explored to manage the problem such as:

  • identifying accommodations that with assistance or guidance instructors and/or departments can provide to students;
  • using available software that makes the scheduling and logistics of test accommodations easier for all parties (e.g., faculty can upload exams on a secured site, students can simply check off on an email list, once a semester, the tests for which they will need accommodations, etc.); and/or
  • devoting more resources to the test accommodation process.

It is important to design a process that does not make students responsible for administrative and resource issues that college or university administrators should be managing.

6.So they don’t make a reservation and then they forget to come in to take the exam but we have to make room for them on another day how is that fair for non disabled students?

The problem with this question is that it is based upon false assumptions regarding the rights of students with disabilities and the obligations of institutions. There is nothing in the law that excuses a student with a disability who does not show up to take an exam and entitles him/her to have the failure to act responsibly ignored. A student with a disability who fails to show up for a scheduled exam should be treated the same as a non-disabled student in the class who fails to show up for an exam.    

7.The biggest issue deals with the timeliness of a student's request to take a test in the testing center (after they have been approved for accommodations). In the spirit of the "shared responsibility" we work with students to help them understand our process which includes working with their instructor on where accommodations will be addressed (i.e. with the instructor or with our office). We publish (in many forms) the guideline for scheduling a test with our office that is by 8 am - 3 business days before the scheduled exam/test.

If a student does not follow the guidelines we give them verbal and written information in an attempt to ensure they understand the process. If they continue to not follow the guidelines we reach a point where we do not give test accommodations in our office if they make the request after the published deadline - at that point the student is encouraged to follow up with their faculty for accommodations. Do we have a right to impose a 'deadline' for scheduling of test accommodations?

If you provide students the option of either taking tests, exams and quizzes in your office or with their instructors, then you can certainly impose reasonable rules related to the logistics of giving tests in your office. The key is that you are not depriving students of test accommodations you are simply providing them with options. The fact that there are conditions attached to one of the options does not make that option unlawful. If a student does not wish to adhere to those conditions s/he can elect to take tests with his/her instructors. However, the accommodations provided by instructors or departments must be equally effective.

The primary problem I see with the procedures you have described is that it appears that students are left to work out the accommodation process with instructors on their own if they do not adhere to your guidelines (i.e., “at that point the student is encouraged to follow up with their faculty for accommodations.”). Your office cannot take a “hands off” approach in such matters. As the office designated for identifying necessary and reasonable accommodations for students, you must ensure that students are properly accommodated. This means you must work with instructors and departments to make sure that they do, in fact, accommodate students properly.

8.The Testing Center has a policy for students to make their testing appointment 4 days in advance so faculty have time to respond, sending their exams in time.

A student, whose accommodation is extra time on exams can use the Testing Center because faculty do not have a place to administer exams after class, doesn't make her appointment in the 4 day time. However the Testing Center does have the exam because other students with disabilities in the same class have made their appointments.

The faculty is denying the use of the Testing Center because the student did not make their appointment in advance. Can we really enforce the policy when it denies the accommodation?

The problem with rules or requirements that are adopted to facilitate the accommodation process and to ensure that students are provided effective accommodations is that often individuals lose sight of that goal and begin to use those rules and requirements in a punitive manner. The way to view this problem is as follows: 

  • The student’s failure to act in this instance does not in any way impact the integrity of the exam process. 
  • The purpose of the rule is to make sure the Center has the exam…the Center has the exam, if anything the student just needs to be reminded to follow the rule in the future.
  • OCR has ruled that once a student has been approved for test accommodations rules that require him/her to continually either request or indicate the intention to use accommodations that s/he has already been approved for may be considered unduly burdensome.

Additionally, all non-disabled students in the class have to do is show up on the day of the test at the right time. It is important to make sure that students with disabilities, in comparison to their peers, are not required to jump through unnecessary additional hoops. Decisions that result in students with disabilities being treated differently than similarly situated non-disabled students in an adverse manner on the basis of disability are suspect. Thus, an absolute rule that would deprive all students with disabilities who do not provide advance notice of the intent to take tests in a Testing Center or the disability services office of the right to test accommodations as a penalty is inappropriate. There is no justification for treating this student differently than similarly situated non disabled students if s/he shows up on the right day and time to take the test. 

9a.If a program has testing policies to state that a student must give a testing form to the professor (which tell us when and how to administer the exam) and schedule their exam time with the DDS office to arrange testing three days prior to the exam (to arrange reader, scribe, schedule private room, get the exam, convert test to alt format, etc.) can we turn the student away for not following the policy (e.g., showing up late to test, not scheduling an appointment with DSS, not giving professor enough notice to get the test to the DSS office)?

 b.As general guideline, if a student fails to request tests in a timely fashion as outlined by the published guidelines (in this case 3 business days in advance), can we decline the accommodation for the late requested accommodation?

It is important to separate those things that are uniquely related to a particular student’s needs and must be in place for him/her to have access (e.g., scheduling a reader or scribe, placing materials in alt format, etc.) from those things that are basically the logistics of managing the test accommodation process, such as the manner in which faculty members submits tests and instructions to DSS and how testing space is scheduled. The requirement that students provide notice regarding uniquely related academic adjustments is arguably justified particularly if the need for the accommodation changes based upon the nature of the test or exam.  However, requirements regarding general logistics should be managed in a way that does not place additional burdens on students.

I would caution against enforcing an absolute rule that would deprive students of the right to be accommodated if guidelines are not followed. You are always obligated to look at the facts of the particular case and determine if you can strike a balance that will not unnecessarily deprive students of accommodations. However, students with disabilities should not be excused from violating standards of behavior that all other students must adhere to (i.e., showing up late for a test, cheating, etc.).  

10.What if professors are stating they are answering questions during their exams, do they have to give the same access to disability students?

Absolutely, students with disabilities are entitled to the same information and opportunities that their peers receive in the testing environment. This is one of the biggest problems with testing students outside of the department/classroom. You cannot ignore the fact that students with disabilities are being denied such information and opportunities. You must work with instructors to design a method to include students with disabilities.

11.Does extended time as a test accommodation apply to take home exam?

It depends upon the nature of the exam, the manifestations of the student’s disabilities and the nature of the academic adjustments identified as being effective for the student. In other words, you must conduct the individualized assessment.

12.What constitutes distraction free/distraction controlled testing? Does it have to be a private room?

There is no answer to this question because it is asked in a general manner without reference to the facts of a particular case. It does not have to be a private room if other methods, based upon the manifestations of the student’s disability, would be effective (e.g., headphones, use of screens or partitions, etc.).

13.Is there a problem administering an exam earlier in the day to a night student so that the exam does not run until 11 pm? Even though the student will have less study time?

OCR has recognized that in fashioning effective accommodations the experiences of disabled and non-disabled students upon occasion will not be identical. The question in such situations is whether there is a substantial adverse impact on the student’s receipt of educational benefits. In the Spokane Community College, No. 10082072 (OCR 2009)case, OCR ruled that an entire weekend worth of study time was substantial. In your case, arguably a few hours in the same day would not be considered substantial. The burden would be on the student to provide evidence of the claimed substantial impact.

14.What can be done when students on the spectrum (aspergers) continuously disruptive the exam room?

Students with disabilities are held to the same standards of behavior as other students in the exam environment. Further, if a student is so disruptive in the exam /testing situation that it is difficult to conduct business then, if there are no accommodations or modifications that will enable or assist the student meet the required standards of behavior, the student may not be qualified. Under those circumstances, it would be appropriate to offer the student an alternative means of participating in the educational program such as on-line or distance learning.

15.A student who has a preference for a human reader declines to use the technology tools offer by the institution; despite the fact that the institution provides one-on-one training in the use of the tools to ensure proficiency. Does the institution have to defer to the student’s preference versus using the technology that is available?

Keep in mind that the obligation is to provide “effective accommodations.” The federal government pays attention when a) institutions ignore individual preference and refuse or fail to consider it as a part of the deliberative process and/or b) the failure to provide the preferred academic adjustment, auxiliary aid or service results in the student being denied equal access. If; however, the institution can demonstrate that the proffered adjustment, aid or service is “equally effective”, the student will not succeed by solely arguing preference. The key is to be able a) to demonstrate that the student’s request was given good faith consideration and b) to provide clear evidence that the recommended accommodation is, in fact effective. Further, if the student must become proficient in the use of the recommended accommodation it is advisable to use the student’s previous accommodations as a bridge and to respond immediately to any issues or concerns the student raises regarding the recommended accommodation. Additionally, you should not ignore sub-par and/or deficient performance on the part of the student if it is attributable to a lack of proficiency or other difficulties with the recommended accommodation.

16.A student in a PhD program is provided an extra year to complete the program as an accommodation. The documentation provided supports the need for the requested accommodation. The student is also a paid TA and addition to requesting the additional year to complete her studies she also requests an additional year as a TA because otherwise she would not be able to afford the extra year in the program. Is this request for financial support really a disability related accommodation?

Arguably, the manner in which the student pays for the additional year is a personal matter that she needs to resolve. Certainly the institution is not obligated to automatically provide her a TA appointment as a part of granting her an additional year to complete her degree requirements. The student would need to apply for, satisfy the requirements for such a position, and compete for the position in the same way as all other similarly situated non-disabled students. The student would; however, have the right to seek modification of department policies regarding her eligibility to seek a TA position. For example, if departmental rules limited the number of years a student could be employed as a TA, she could seek a modification of that policy as an accommodation.

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