Standardized Testing and the Dyslexic Student

April 13, 2017 

dyslexic-students.jpgSomeone once said that a standardized test best measures how well a student takes a standardized test. Though this statement is a bit oversimplified, there is a kernel of truth in it. So what is the flip side? Are there students who struggle with the SAT or ACT because of format issues alone—irrespective of content?

Absolutely, say Fernette Eide (“Dyslexia Accommodations for College Exams – PSAT, SAT, and ACT”) and Kyle Redford (“For Dyslexic Test-Takers, the New SAT Is Even Worse”). Even if the content of the test is at the student’s level, Redford raises the point that “standardized test environments in no way resemble school environment.” The testing experience itself is new, unfamiliar, and qualitatively different than anything the student’s academic background has prepared him or her for.

How Dyslexia can affect students 

These differences take a toll on the student with learning disabilities. Two of the biggest problems for dyslexic students, according to Redford, are the speed at which students need to work and the length of time for which they need to stay focused. Eide specifically mentions “visual fatigue”. Visual fatigue is just what it sounds like—students become tired from the extended time they need to decode and respond to the printed word. Paradoxically, visual fatigue can be alleviated by giving the student more time. With less pressure to work fast, he or she is less likely to skip key words. Extra breaks benefit the dyslexic student as well.

Redford does not detail the specific types of problems learning disabled students face. She does, however, maintain that the new SAT “is likely to exacerbate existing educational inequalities for students with learning disabilities.”

What can parents do? 

Applying for test accommodations is one of the best steps a family can take.

The College Board posts a page on their site called, “Top Five Reasons to Work with Your School”. This article explains why, rather than tackle the regulations and paperwork on their own, parents should pursue testing accommodations through their child’s SSD Coordinator.  More often than not, “accommodation” translates to “extra time”. That extra can be very valuable, indeed. However, parents should be aware that other options exist.  Possibilities include private rooms, extended breaks, large print/braille tests, and the assistance of a scribe.  

The goal of acquiring accommodations is to create a level playing field. According to Susan Michaelson, Manager of Test Accommodations for the ACT test, “We are looking to provide equal access” rather than trying to “maximize” a student’s score. This is a subtle, yet important distinction. It means, among other things, that a student still needs to find someone whose goal IS to maximize the student’s score.  On the website Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, Joan M. Azarva (Ms.ED) recommends “a private tutor who works in shorter increments and emphasizes strategies over content.”

The best second step, after applying for accommodations, is to find a good test preparation program for your child.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our tutors use multiple strategies to ensure that students get as much support as they need. Some of these strategies include:

  1. Multi-sensory instruction – engaging auditory, visual, and other senses in instruction
  2. Step-by-step breakdowns of concepts
  3. Eliciting active, regular feedback from the student

We match students with experienced tutors who coach them on content and testing strategies.  For students who have been granted accommodations, we factor those accommodations into our sessions.

If you would like more information, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware are available to assist you. You may reach either of them by calling A+ Test Prep and Tutoring at 215-886-9188.

Photo credit: Bryan Alexander




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