College Board Fails to Provide “Universal Features” to All Students; Students with Accommodations Suffer

College Board continues to fail students who need accommodations. It does not ensure the provision of its “universal features” to all students, which in turn impacts the students’ test-taking experiences and scores.

College Board is the organization that develops, publishes, administers, and charges fees to take the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, and AP exams—and then charges additional fees to send the scores to institutes of higher learning.

“Universal features” are the “common administrative features” shared by College Board tests. These common features are supposed to be provided to all students, which in turn negates the need to ask for one of these “universal features”—such as a quiet testing environment—as an accommodation.

“Universal Features” & Identifying Accommodation Needs

In its 2021-22 “Accommodations and Supports Handbook”, College Board stated:

Each assessment has differences that can affect accommodations. College Board tests may be administered differently than many classroom tests. To know which accommodations need to be requested for students, it’s important to understand how College Board tests are administered.

~College Board’s “Accommodations and Supports Handbook,” Page 4

The “universal features” shared by “most College Board tests” have the features listed below:

Administered in a quiet, structured environment [emphasis added]

* Calculators permitted for some, but not all, math sections

* Breaks included in the test schedule

* General instructions given orally and may be repeated on request of students

Most, but not all, College Board tests are paper based.

~College Board’s “Accommodations and Supports Handbook,” Page 4

Some students with disabilities may not need any accommodations for College Board tests. Unlike classroom instruction, College Board tests are primarily written tests, given in a quiet environment. (See Universal Features on page 4.) [emphasis added]~ College Board’s “Accommodations and Supports Handbook,” Page 10

Dereliction of Duty: Failure to Ensure Provision of “Universal Features”

College Board requires students who have specific accommodations to test at their school.

Unlike students who test on the weekends at a test center, students who test at schools, while school is in session, aren’t ensured a “quiet testing environment” Instead, they deal with the following issues:

  • class bells going off throughout the day;
  • students and teachers are chattering and sometimes screaming outside the testing room;
  • fire alarms go off;
  • teachers who are oblivious to the testing, walking in to talk to the student;
  • loudspeaker announcements throughout the day; and
  • all the other things that interrupt school during the day.

In addition, depending on their timing accommodation, students who test during the school day may miss up to two days of class, which puts them behind in class instruction, classwork, and homework.

Yet, if you complain about these issues, College Board punts the implementation of the accommodations to the school.

For example, when I complained to College Board after the computer my son was using stopped working while he was taking the SAT, College Board’s response was to throw the school under the bus and to say it was the school’s responsibility to provide the computer. (Additional Reading: ‘FCPS Tech Problems Continue: FCPS Computer Shuts Down During SAT Exam‘)

Whose Responsibility Is It?

College Board is the one who makes it difficult to have accommodations approved for exams, approves accommodations, charges fees to take the exam, provides the exam, scores the exam, and then charges another fee to share the exam with colleges and universities.

While the schools should have the good sense to understand what a “quiet environment”, as one example, is, it is College Board’s responsibility to ensure College Board and the schools are on the same page with the definition of “quiet environment” and how it will be implemented.

Breaking Down Accommodations to Help College Board and the Office of Civil Rights Understand

Accommodations are anything anyone needs to take an exam.

For example, imagine ten students are taking the SAT on the weekend. None have IEPs or 504 Plans, yet . . . They still need accommodations?

Imagine all of the students are h testing center where they’ll take the exam, What accommodations do they need to take the exam?

They need the lights turned on and a fully functioning chair and desk or table. Yes, these are accommodations. Or, are they all supposed to stand up in the dark to take the exam?

According to College Board, another accommodation provided to everyone is a quiet, structured environment,

In the case of students who do have accommodations . . .

In addition to the quiet environment, light, and fully functioning chair and table or desk provided to students who don’t have accommodations, some students who have accommodations need a fully functioning computer, and/or the test in an alternate format, such as large print or braille.

Then we get into all the individualized accommodations that are easier to understand, like extended time, extra breaks, water and food in the exam room, two-day testing, and so on.

The schools are a little better with these, but those “universal features?” Not so much.

Request Universal Features as Accommodations

If College Board takes your money, but won’t ensure implementation of the accommodations it approved or its own “universal features”, ask College Board to approve its “universal features” as accommodations. If it says no, ask it how it will ensure that the “universal features” are implemented. If they refuse, talk to your school to ask for its help and then contact the Office of Civil Rights and file a complaint. If College Board can make it so difficult to have accommodations approved and then charge so many fees, the least it can do is ensure students receive their accommodations, as well as the “universal features” College Board supposedly provides to all students.

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