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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Testing Accommodations

July 11, 2017  | By  | 2 Comments

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to fairly compete for and pursue such opportunities by requiring testing entities to offer exams in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities.  The US Department of Justice published revised final regulations implementing the ADA regarding testing accommodations in 2010. These rules clarify and refine issues that have arisen over the past 20 years and contain new and updated requirements. In addition to the ADA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and state-specific special-education legislation may apply as well.

Exams administered by any private, state, or local government entity related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes are covered by the ADA and testing accommodations must be provided.

Testing accommodations are changes to the regular testing environment and auxiliary aids and services that allow individuals with disabilities to demonstrate their true aptitude or achievement level on standardized exams or other high-stakes tests.  Testing entities must ensure that the test scores of individuals with disabilities accurately reflect the individual’s aptitude or achievement level or whatever skill the exam or test is intended to measure.  A testing entity must administer its exam so that it accurately reflects an individual’s aptitude, achievement level, or the skill that the exam purports to measure, rather than the individual’s impairment (except where the impaired skill is one the exam purports to measure). The general goal of providing testing accommodations is to create a level playing field for candidates whose disabilities or language abilities may adversely affect their ability to complete a test.

Examples of the wide range of testing accommodations that may be requested include:

  • Braille or large-print exam booklets;
  • Screen reading technology;
  • Scribes to transfer answers to Scantron bubble sheets or record dictated notes and essays;
  • Extended time;
  • Wheelchair-accessible testing stations;
  • Distraction-free rooms;
  • Physical prompts (such as for individuals with hearing impairments); and
  • Permission to bring and take medications during the exam.

Any documentation if required by a testing entity in support of a request for testing accommodations must be reasonable and limited to the need for the requested testing accommodations.  Requests for supporting documentation should be narrowly tailored to the information needed to determine the nature of the candidate’s disability and his or her need for the requested testing accommodation.  Appropriate documentation will vary depending on the nature of the disability and the specific testing accommodation requested.

Examples of types of documentation include:

  • Recommendations of qualified professionals;
  • Proof of past testing accommodations;
  • Observations by educators;
  • Results of psycho-educational or other professional evaluations;
  • An applicant’s history of diagnosis; and
  • An applicant’s statement of his or her history regarding testing accommodations.

A testing entity must respond in a timely manner to requests for testing accommodations so as to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities.  Testing entities should ensure that their process for reviewing and approving testing accommodations responds in time for applicants to register and prepare for the test.  In addition, the process should provide applicants with a reasonable opportunity to respond to any requests for additional information from the testing entity, and still be able to take the test in the same testing cycle.

Testing entities should report accommodated scores in the same way they report scores generally.  Flagging policies that impede individuals with disabilities from fairly competing for and pursuing educational and employment opportunities are prohibited by the ADA.  Flagging is the policy of annotating test scores or otherwise reporting scores in a manner that indicates the exam was taken with a testing accommodation.  Flagging announces to anyone receiving the exam scores that the test-taker has a disability and suggests that the scores are not valid or deserved.  Flagging also discourages test-takers with disabilities from exercising their right to testing accommodations under the ADA for fear of discrimination.  Flagging must not be used to circumvent the requirement that testing entities provide testing accommodations for persons with disabilities and ensure that the test results for persons with disabilities reflect their abilities, not their disabilities.

As certification organizations implement and administer processes to comply with ADA requirements, it is also important for certification organizations to have policies to support their processes, in addition to demonstrating compliance with the ADA. These laws and regulations change on a fairly frequent basis, so it also important for certification organizations to keep abreast of any newly released legislation and revise processes and policies accordingly. Testing accommodations have come a long way in preceding couple of decades, and more progress is likely on the horizon in the near future.

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  • Marissa Frankel says:

    What should programs do when they administer the same exam in other countries? Does ADA apply, or should they have a separate set of guidelines and criteria for accommodations for every country?

  • Dustin Shullick says:

    Hi Marissa. ADA does not apply outside of the United States. It can be tricky but when administering examinations in other countries, the local legislation (if there is any, as many countries do not have such legislation) must be considered regarding testing accommodations. Often times the steps taken to adhere to ADA will suffice but it is always wise to be aware of disability or any other relevant legislation that exists in the country the where the examination is being administered.

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