Inner workings of extra time

Julia Goldberg and Adam Frommer

In a school where students are often under pressure to perform well on assessments in limited time, testing accommodations—specifically that of extra time—are necessary, as they provide students with equitable opportunities to succeed. The school dedicates abundant resources and time to ensure the playing field is level; nevertheless, some students question whether or not every one of their peers’ accommodations is merited. This wariness has, in many ways, led to a larger stigma surrounding the topic of accommodations as a whole.

PROCESS

Psychologist Dr. Ian Pervil, who oversees the provision of testing accommodations in the Upper Division, said that the school provides accommodations to students with learning disabilities because it is both “the right thing to do and the law.” According to The Americans with Disabilities Act, accommodations serve to counteract the “unnecessary discrimination and prejudice [that] denies people with disabilities the opportunity… to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous.”
The school’s Family Handbook states that testing accommodations are “designed to provide equal access to qualified students with a disability, not to ensure success or a particular outcome.”
The majority of students who apply for accommodations have really struggled for a long time because of a learning disability, Pervil said. “They’re relieved to know what’s going on. It’s really about them coming to understand, ‘this is how I learn.’”
The process of acquiring time begins when a student, parent, or caregiver directs a request for accommodations to the Committee on Disabilities, chaired by Psychologist Dr. Christina Nichols. “The Committee generally requires a full psychoeducational evaluation for learning disabilities, as well as hearing tests, physical agility tests, and vision examinations in certain circumstances,” the Handbook says. “The school will consider evaluations regarding student disabilities and accommodations only from accredited professionals who have actually performed the evaluation or examination.”
Along with the psychoeducational evaluations, the Handbook lists a multitude of factors the Committee will take into consideration before granting accommodations. A few of these factors include relevant medical and academic history, reports of classroom performance and behavior, and a history of relevant medication and current use.
Despite the effort of the school’s Committee to supply equal opportunities to all students, there are certain limitations to testing accommodations. The school—unlike standardized test companies—does not give students more than time and a half, allow for readers, or administer tests over consecutive days in a majority of the cases. “To do so would significantly erode the School’s rigorous educational program,” the Handbook says.
Because there are trained psychologists and administrators in the Committee, the Committee probably evaluates needs accurately, Pascale Zissu (11) said. “I think there are students who do need that extra time, and I would trust that kids who have that [extra time] actually do need it.”

STUDENT CONCERNS

Despite the Committee’s deliberate process, some students do not believe that its methods of implementation for the system are conducive to an equitable learning environment.
Sasha Snyder (11) said that she takes issue with the school’s policy because despite the individual learning differences of the students, the policy does not typically give more or less than exactly time and a half on assessments. As such, the system benefits the people who need more than standard time but under time and a half, she said. “Those who oppose extra time would be more sympathetic to it if it was a more scalar application of it rather than all or nothing.”
Pervil said that there are individual variations in the ideal amount of time it takes each student to complete an assessment, regardless of whether or not they have accommodations. “It’s the job of educators and administrators to keep thinking about the best ways to serve all students in the community given practical constraints,” Pervil said.
Will Golub ‘19, who has extra time in college and had accommodations at the school, acknowledged that it is difficult for some students to understand that their peers need exactly one and a half time, a somewhat arbitrary amount, to complete the same tasks as the rest of the group. Nevertheless, he said that a “scalar application” would not make a difference for most students with extra time. “Generally, I think one and a half time is usually enough to reduce time pressure, which is often the biggest thing that you are getting out of [extended time].”
Elaine*, who also has extra time, said that the process of receiving accommodations is not fair because finding a professional to perform an evaluation is quite expensive and not an easily accessible option for everyone.
A 2019 article in The New York Times (NYT) titled “Need extra time on tests? It helps to have the cash” stated that some psychological assessments cost up to $10,000 and are not always covered by insurance.
“It is kind of twisted that it costs so much money to get tested,” Margaux Devaney (12), a student at the Convent of the Sacred Heart (CHS) in New York, said. “Obviously, these professionals are in high demand and charge outrageous prices.” Devaney said that there are students who likely need accommodations but never end up getting a diagnosis due to cost.
However, at Horace Mann, if a student needs a neurologist but their caregivers cannot afford one, they can work with Head of School Tom Kelly to find a solution, Nichols said.
“Financial need should not interfere with the ability of a student to receive a high quality evaluation for learning disabilities,” the Handbook states.
For any aspect of the evaluation process, if, for financial reasons, a parent or other guardian is having difficulty securing the services required to complete an evaluation, the school is able to provide the financial or professional services needed to do so, Kelly wrote.
Nevertheless, Snyder said she would be interested in a study at the school on the correlation between familial income and extra time.
When NYT conducted a national study on the correlation between socio-economic status and testing accommodations, they found that an average of 2.7 percent of students receive accommodations across the nation. Furthermore, they discovered that 5.8 percent of students in the top one percent of familial income receive them. Additionally, racial disparities on a national level correlate with the students who receive accommodations; NYT found that a greater percentage of white students were granted accommodations than students of any other race.
The school does not share any information about the demographic of students who use accommodations, Nichols said. The school considers this type of student information confidential, Kelly wrote.
Golub said that an arguably larger barrier to receiving accommodations is the discrepancy in knowledge about the system. “There was no day when the school got up and said: ‘There are some students who have learning differences. You might fall into this category if you experience these things. Here is what we do about learning differences.’”
Instead, students learn about extended time either because a teacher suggested it, a parent urged for it, or outside-of-school help mentioned it, Golub said. As such, though expenses may not necessarily be an issue, the process generally works smoother for families who have ample time and resources to dedicate to research and evaluations, he said.
Another issue addressed in the NYT article is that not only are the private health practitioners expensive, but they also often receive little oversight from school systems.
Students sometimes manipulate the results on their own during testing with out-of-school practitioners, Charlie Shapiro (11) said. Some purposefully perform poorly on diagnostic tests so that their results conclude that they have ADHD, and they may receive extra time, he said.
“Are there people who have [cheated on their test results]? Yes. Do I think it is easy? No,” Golub said. The tests are designed by psychologists to understand what is going on and to confirm learning disabilities, he said. “It is harder than one might think.”
“It is actually quite difficult to ‘game’ psychological tests,” Dr. Daniel Rothstein, Director of Counseling & Guidance, said. “Many tests are designed to pick up inconsistencies that occur when someone is trying to fake responses. In addition, a diagnosis is not given as the result of one test—it comes from data across a number of tests, observations from other people in the student’s life, and the clinical judgement of the psychologist after extensive interviews.”
Although the Committee does not do its own testing, Nichols acknowledged, the members can certainly confirm whether a diagnosis is accurate or not. “The school professionals at the table are skilled at recognizing when a report contains recommendations that are not in keeping with a particular student’s levels of functioning or other data available for review,” she said.
According to the Handbook, the school never guarantees that it will agree with the findings of a parent, physician, or outside evaluator, or implement their recommendations.
Izzy Abbott (11) was denied accommodations at the end of ninth grade, and even though she scored very high in terms of her IQ, she tested in the second percentile when assessed for her ability to work under time pressure. Abbott said that the school paid more attention to her general academic performance rather than her disabilities and that her intelligence and school grades made her ineligible to receive accommodations. “It was heartbreaking that they didn’t fully acknowledge all of my learning differences,” she said, considering how difficult it is to come forward and admit a need for accommodations.
In addition to the demographic of students with extra time, Snyder also thinks that there is an unfair difference between the environments of the classroom and those of the Test Center (often called the Testing Center), where students with extra time take their assessments.
Test Center Coordinator Jesse Shaw said that it is hard to compare the environment of the testing center with a classroom setting. “There are so many different moving pieces that we have to operate differently,” he said. “Every student has a different test; every test has different starting times, ending times, different reference materials, [and] different calculators.” However, even in these circumstances, Shaw works extremely hard to give students the appropriate alloted time for their tests, he said.
Snyder thinks that the relaxed nature of the testing center can lead to an improvement in students’ grades. The testing center provides individual desks, sharpened pencils, graphing calculators, candy, and pretzels—and relaxed timing, regardless of a student’s given accommodations, she said.
While Snyder said that food in the testing center doesn’t necessarily improve a student’s grades, the snacks are further examples of the experience available only in the testing center. “And time starts whenever you want. For me, I am running from class to class trying to get to my tests on time,” she said.
Zissu, however, believes the leniency of the testing center hurts students’ ability to perform well on tests as students who are not taking tests often stop by to take snacks, which can be disruptive, she said. As such, though some of her friends who do not have extra time often ask to take their tests in the testing center in hopes of gaining some more time, Zissu much prefers the classroom.
A recent study in the testing center from this year found that students with “normal” time on average have handed in their assessments one minute and forty-five seconds late, Pervil and Shaw sent in an email to the UD faculty. The same study found that students who have one and a half time on average finish over three minutes and thirty seconds early.
Despite the welcoming nature of the testing center, it does not provide students with an unfair advantage or disadvantage, Shaw said. For each test, teachers send in a checklist of their rules to Shaw, such as whether or not a calculator or spell check is allowed. Ultimately, all students still take the same test with the same reference materials, he said.
Moving forward, the testing center plans to change its policy regarding timing. “If [students] do not stop working immediately and hand in their assessment in a timely fashion (within a grace period of a minute or so), they will receive a stamp on the front page of the test that notifies the teacher that the student has gone over their allotted time (and the number of minutes),” Shaw and Pervil’s email said.

STIGMA AND DISCLOSURE

The tension surrounding issues of equality, whether it be who receives extra time, how much they receive, or where they receive it, has created an unwarranted stigma for those who truly deserve accommodations. Because there are rumors of some students not needing their extra time, some students assume that nobody needs it, which is not true, Zissu said.
Some students simply do not understand why having a learning disability is a reason for extra time. As such, they do not view their 45 minutes as equivalent to her 68, Elaine said. “It’s annoying,” she said. “They don’t get how other people’s learning works.” A
There is a misconception that students who have extra time are not as intelligent as their peers and need accommodations to keep up with the rigor of the school, Daryl*, a student with accommodations, said.
Demystifying the process of receiving extra time is important, as it creates a better-informed community, Pervil said.
This stigma often manifests itself in rude comments, Shapiro said. In the past, peers who did not believe that he deserved testing accommodations have told him “You just did well because you have extra time,” or have asked “Do you really need extra time?”
Elaine said that when she complains about the difficulty of certain tests, peers will sometimes ask offensive questions, such as “Why are you complaining? You had so much time.” These judgmental comments, which come from a place of misunderstanding, are often really frustrating, Elaine said.
Even as a student who does not receive accommodations, Cindy recognizes that there is a clear stigma around the topic of accomodations. Because students with extra time do not take tests with their peers, the unspoken sentiment she sometimes feels during tests is, “Oh, they have extra time, that’s why they’re not here,” she said.
No matter how necessary, Pervil said that it will be difficult to rid the school of the stigma because of its cyclical nature. “People who have accommodations may not really want to talk about why they have accommodations,” he said. Because these students are staying silent, others may believe that those with accommodations have been given special treatment and that the process is unfair.
The stigma around topics such as accommodations simply should not exist, Zissu said. “Deal with your own life. You have a lot going on, so mind your own business.”
But in rigorous environments like the school, perfection may be an issue on many students’ minds, Pervil said. “When you are acknowledging that we are different from each other… you are admitting that we are not perfect, which for me is a wonderful thing, but is also hard for a lot of people,” he said. “In order to reduce the stigma, we have to accept that our imperfections make us wonderful, that our differences make us unique and terrific, that if we were all the same we would be completely boring.”
Daryl said that a hesitation to admit to having an accommodation is especially prevalent in the Middle Division (MD), when some students first notice they need extra time. “I used to be nervous; I thought it was a little scary because I thought I was less than everyone else,” he said.
When Elaine came to the school in fourth grade, she always had to finish her tests outside of the classroom. Starting in fifth grade, she had to finish her tests during lunch periods, a trade-off that did not have a serious impact on her social or academic life. In the MD, however, Elaine would finish her tests in the academic center. “In sixth and seventh [grades], I thought I was the only person who had it, so I was really embarrassed,” she said. Instead of discussing her learning disability, Elaine would tell peers she was going to the academic center because she missed school and needed to retake missed assessments. Now, Elaine is open about her accommodations: “The whole grade knows I have it,” she said. Because many of her peers are aware of her accommodations, she feels much more comfortable talking about them, she said.
Marge*, who remains anonymous because she did not want her accommodations to be accessible online for colleges to discover, realized she needed extra time in the beginning of eighth grade. Although she had trouble on her seventh grade finals, her ADHD started seriously affecting her grades in eighth grade. “I remember there was a Spanish test with a twenty point paragraph at the end, and I didn’t get to it, so then I was like, ‘ok, I really need to find out what’s wrong,’” she said. Marge received time and a half on tests after a month and a half of communicating with the administration and completing numerous medical evaluations. Unlike Daryl, Marge did not care much about others knowing, nor did she try to hide the fact that she had extra time; she thought her peers would find out eventually no matter what, she said.
Now, Daryl no longer minds if any of his peers knows he has extra time. “If they start talking about me, I can’t control it, [but] I don’t really care,” he said. “You can see a lot of people have [extra time], and I don’t seem alone. I feel like I’m with others.”
Testing accommodations do not fix all of the drawbacks that come with having a disability, Devaney said. Homework, take-home essays, and problem sets also take more time to finish outside of school. “I have learned to cope with the fact that things take me longer. I have to set expectations for myself and plan around taking more time,” she said.

FINDING FLEXIBILITY

Aside from the challenge of discussing testing accommodations with peers, finding the space in a student’s schedule for taking assessments with extra time can also be difficult.
“Students should be able to access the full curriculum,” Pervil said. However, finding solutions is not always easy; “[it] requires a lot of mental juggling from students and teachers.”
For the most part, teachers have been very accommodating with Shapiro in terms of scheduling assessments, but he once had a teacher make him take a test on its scheduled date, during which he had no free periods. After he asked to take it on a different day, the teacher said “No. You just have to figure it out,” so Shapiro decided to take matters into his own hands and negotiate with other teachers, ultimately skipping a different class to take the test.
Sometimes, students who have time and a half will need to split their tests, which means that they take one third during one period and two thirds during another period. “It’s obviously easier to have a double free, but that doesn’t always work out,” Elaine said. “You sometimes need to split the test, and that cuts out of your lunch period or a period you could be doing work. It changes your schedule, and it’s really hard to figure out.”
“[Splitting tests] is not ideal at all,” Marge said. In Marge’s experience, she has been given one third of a test at once and can ask for more pages, but if she doesn’t finish the pages she requests, she’s “done”: students are never allowed to revisit pages of a test from a previous period, she said.
Students are also not allowed to revisit essays, Shaw said. After the first testing period, a student’s work is photocopied. When the student returns to finish their essay, they continue it on paper which is later attached to the photocopy.
Splitting tests is challenging because students need to focus on the same material twice in one day. “[You’re] in the math mode for a math test, but then you have four other subjects, and then you have to go back to taking the math test,” Daryl said.
Cindy said that because of their accommodations, some students are able to take their tests on later dates, a flexibility that she does not have. Once, in Cindy’s French 4 class, a student with extra time asked to take a test two days later than the scheduled date since they did not have back-to-back free periods on the scheduled date. The student did not feel comfortable splitting the test, and as a result they had two extra days to study, Cindy said. “That’s when I feel like it’s crossing the line.”
To lower her chances of needing to split tests and essays, Marge has switched her schedule around every year of high school to circumvent having two academic classes back to back, she said.
Deans commonly help out students with testing accommodations by arranging their schedules so that they have space, such as double frees, for extended time testing, Dean of the Class of 2021 Dr. Susan Groppi said. “It’s often not possible to make it work, just because there are so many factors involved in scheduling, but when possible we do try.” Deans also assist other groups of students, such as athletes with early dismissal, rearrange their schedules, she said.
In order to have more flexibility in his schedule, Shapiro is only taking one half-credit course this year. He also generally takes half-credits that are less intense so that if needed, he can ask his teacher to let him miss a class period for a test, he said.
Systems of testing accommodations work differently at every school. For example, Lauren Tsai (12), a student at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut, said that students with testing accommodations take tests with their class and then arrange for a time to finish their assessments elsewhere. Tsai said that because all students take tests in the same room, it is difficult to know who has accommodations. In fact, Tsai only knows of one peer who receives extra time, despite assuming that other students likely have accommodations. Since students do not know much about the topic, there is no stigma around it, she said.
Additionally, Tsai said that at her public high school, students are less competitive about grades, and for the most part, there is not as much pressure to “cheat the system” to improve one’s class rank.
Devaney said that CHS allows for testing accommodations other than one and a half time. While she has one and a half time on tests, some of her classmates have double time or laptop use at school. “There are so many intricacies that I don’t even know,” she said. CHS generally grants students the same accommodations as they are given on standardized tests, she said, which is not always true for students at Horace Mann.
Devaney also said that there is no version of a testing center at CHS. Instead, class periods are an hour long with 40 minute tests. Students with extra time take tests in the same classroom as their peers, and ince most have one and a half time, they can simply stay in the classroom for the entire hour to take an assessment instead of leaving early.
At Horace Mann, “the system is not perfect, but it has been deeply considered,” Pervil said. “I am here, and advisors and deans are there, for moments that are unsolvable and we have to figure things out.”

STANDARDIZED TESTING

The controversy surrounding extra time extends into the tumultuous world of standardized testing. The SAT (officiated by The College Board) and the ACT are independent companies that make their own determinations about whether a student should receive any accommodations, Pervil said. Any student can apply for extra time on the ACT or SAT, no matter the status of accommodations at one’s high school. That being said, The College Board website said that it is rare for a student not approved for accommodations at their school to have accommodations for standardized testing.
Extra time is not the only possible accommodation to receive on standardized tests: students can additionally receive computer use, extra and extended breaks, reading and seeing accommodations, or a four function calculator (when not permitted on a section).
There are differences between requesting accommodations for the ACT and SAT tests: the ACT said that a school must submit request forms for testing accommodations, whereas for the SAT, families may request to work directly with the College Board. No matter how a student applies for accommodations, though, their testing details are omitted from their official ACT or SAT score report.
Because the ACT is known to be especially cramped for time, extra time is a “game changer,” Daryl said. Daryl had time and a half for the test and took only one section per day. He found that he had plenty of time and that the test was far less stressful for him than for students taking the test with normal time. “It’s honestly not fair, but why not use it if you can get it?” he said.
Since the makers of the ACT know about the time pressure, they sometimes deny students—even those who have extra time at the school—of accommodations, Elaine said.
Marge had trouble communicating with the company and did not quickly receive her accommodations, which were time and a half, laptop use, and the ability to take the test over two days. “We kept emailing people, and trying to get connected, but eventually, we had to go through the government,” she said. Marge and her family contacted the Department of Education and were directed to the unit that deals with special education needs.
Ultimately, Marge received extra time and her laptop on the ACT, but still had to take the test in one day. She said that this was frustrating because she had been practicing it over the course of two days, but that it would have been a “whole process” to try to receive the privilege of two days to retake the test.Because the ACT is so pressed for time, students who do have extra time often receive even more backlash. “The summer ACT course wasn’t taught by a faculty member, but I remember the kids were saying he was talking about how it’d be a breeze for everyone with extra time. It’s kind of offensive, because that’s not how we feel,” Elaine said.
Marge said that students incorrectly assume that because she has extra time on the ACT, the test is easier for her. “It’s not like it’s easier; I take full time,” she said.
With so much controversy over testing accommodations, students and faculty have begun to wonder if time should even be a factor in testing. Daryl, for instance, is a firm believer that tests should not be taken based on time. “The whole point of school is to assess your learning, and it shouldn’t be in a given amount of time,” he said. Testing should be based on how smart a student is and how well they know the material, not how fast they work in allotted time, he said.
“I think the main goal of a test is to see what a kid knows, so I think it’d be nice if everyone had unlimited time,” Elaine said.
High school is an artificial situation and differs entirely from the real world, Pervil said. “I want to get out of the mindset that’s ‘I finished faster, therefore I’m smarter.’”
If a person needs ten extra minutes on an assignment for a job, for example, that individual will just be at work ten minutes later, and no one will really care, Pervil said. “It’s only within the confines of this strange system that we’ve created, where we’ve given you questions and we’re asking you to answer them within this time frame, that this problem occurs. In life, that’s just not the way things usually work.”

*Any name with an asterisk represents a student granted anonymity.