Are Students Getting False Diagnoses To Get Accommodations for Extended Time?

Are Students Getting False Diagnoses to Get Accommodations for Extra Time

As teachers prepare for testing season, many might be re-examining their student list to check for accommodations. Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans need special attention to make sure they have what they need to be successful. One frequently requested accommodation is the use of extended test time. This can be beneficial for students with learning disabilities, ADHD, or students with executive functioning/processing delays. But in recent years, many teachers have suspected students who don’t actually need it are seeking—and getting—extended time.

The misuse of accommodations

While the accommodation of extended time is critical for many students with disabilities, it also has the potential to be secured and utilized for the wrong reasons. Students and parents may seek out a false diagnosis in order to secure extended time for standardized tests, such as ACTs and SATs, giving them an advantage over students who do not get extra time. One high school teacher from an affluent public magnet program notes:

“I work at a school with a unique population. We have quite a few students with medically necessary accommodations, but we also have students who arrive at school suddenly with a medical diagnosis requiring extra time despite no feedback from teachers suggesting a need for it. I recognize it’s completely possible for a student to have a legitimate diagnosis and a need for accommodations that may have flown under all their teachers’ radars. However, we are also well aware of fliers in the district circulating among parents of doctors in the area who are known to hand out ADHD diagnoses. In some cases, I think what’s happening is a pay-to-play situation.”

Although this is not exclusive to testing accommodations, that is often the area that is most notably discussed, as it has widespread ramifications and implications on college admissions. And oftentimes, these accommodations are secured by those with power and privilege, further widening the gap of inequities in the educational system.

The impact on students with disabilities

Ultimately, this trend hurts individuals with disabilities who benefit from these accommodations the most. Teachers and administrators may start to question or doubt the validity of accommodation requests from students who absolutely need them. In addition, the process of securing accommodations can be laborious and complicated, often preventing those who do need the accommodations from accessing them, as they may not have the time or resources to navigate the complex process. This again widens the gap of inequities, disproportionately affecting students with disabilities and other intersectional identities, such as students whose families speak a language other than English or first-generation students. 

Navigating the accommodations process

Clearly, this is a complicated issue to navigate with no easy way to ensure that accommodations are being provided in the appropriate ways to the right students. However, there are a few ways to ensure the protection of students with disabilities. The Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education helps to investigate cases where accommodations are denied. It’s also important for us to get to know and build rapport with our students, so that we can understand what accommodations and supports they may benefit from.

How to protect students

Communication with families and outside professionals can ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of the best ways to support a student. Knowing our students can help us see when a student may be requesting something they do not need. If you suspect this, you can go to your special education coordinator or administrator for support and resources on steps to take to prevent accommodation abuse.

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