There are many accommodations that will make a big difference in your child’s life at school, there are some that do not work well. Unfortunately, these are often the first your child will be offered. The most common is extra time for test taking. Extra time can be a useful accommodation, but it should not be used merely as a way to allow a student to labor through a standard reading, writing, or spelling approach. Giving a person in a wheelchair extra time to get up the stairs makes no sense. If, however, going up the ramp takes longer than going up the stairs, or you need to spend time building a ramp before you can get into the building, then the extra time is appropriate.
There are three unsaid reasons for giving extra time that are not in your child’s best interest:
Dyslexics are slower. The first is an assumption that the metaphorical gears in the mind of a dyslexic are moving slower than in a non-dyslexic. Do not for one minute believe that this way of thinking adequately describes your child. We dyslexics are able to draw the right conclusion quickly when we have the right path to the information.
It’s cheaper. Often extra time is given because it is the lowest-cost accommodation for a school to provide. It presents the least bureaucratic hassle and is designed to make administering a test easier on the school’s part. It would be much easier for an institution to say to all people in wheelchairs: “Tell you what—since you’re a special person, we will give you extra time to get up the stairs, at no charge!” when what they actually want to say is “We will not spend money on concrete and architects to figure out how to make this easier.” Extra time is really in the interest of the institution: it places the burden on the individual to correct him- or herself rather than on the institution to improve the manner of testing. On top of this, the school administrators can say they have met their obligation and limit legal liability.
Stigma. The final reason to be cautious of extra time is that it can be one of the most socially stigmatizing accommodations. The student who uses extra time does not have an obvious symbol to represent his need for his accommodation, and other students will surmise that they too would benefit from extra time. Yet this is not the case. Extra time also requires that your child work on a different schedule than the other students in the classroom, thereby segregating her. Your child may also try to keep hidden that she gets extra time, which only increases her shame. Remember, your child has a right to the best accommodations. That is the standard that you should be seeking. It’s what is best for your child, and it is also what is best for the school that is trying to accurately assess your child.
Many states develop specific standards to articulate what accommodations are acceptable for their testing. You can find out information about your specific state in the Local Resources section of our Community page. Remember not to let administrators leave you with only extra time, which is the cheap and lazy approach to inclusion.
Don’t set your child up to have to rely on the goodwill of others. Always have access to the tools that your child needs in order to produce a high-quality exam. It’s better to have some uncomfortable and direct conversations before the exam than to wait until afterward to try to clean up a mess.