As a homeschooling teacher (and administrator and guidance counselor), you probably naturally accommodate your student with special learning needs when he or she takes a test. You might grant extended time, allow frequent breaks, or have your child use adaptive equipment and assistive technology. After all, you want your child to have the best chance of success, and you don’t believe that their unique challenges should hold them back!
If your student is a college-bound teen, you may be wondering how they will fare on the SAT or ACT—the two most common entrance exams that colleges use to evaluate applicants. Is it possible for teens to receive accommodations on these tests? Yes—but navigating the accommodations request process can be tricky for homeschooling families, so read on for specific guidance.
Let’s start with a definition. Accommodations are tools or procedures that provide equal access to instruction and assessment for students with disabilities. Accommodations do not change requirements or lower standards for individual test takers—they simply attempt to provide a level playing field. They are not intended to help students get top scores, but rather to help them access test material, work efficiently, and receive medical necessities.
Both the SAT and the ACT have procedures to follow in order to obtain accommodations for your student. The following four essential steps will help you get successfully through the accommodations process for either test. Since applying for ACT accommodations can be particularly tricky, we suggest you then hop on over to Simplifying the ACT Accommodations Process.
1. Document Your Teen’s Disability and Need for Accommodations.
Having a disability does not automatically entitle someone to testing accommodations. There must be proof that the student needs the requested accommodations.
The College Board (publisher of the SAT) and ACT each provide detailed guidelines for this documentation. Here are the ACT’s Policy for Accommodations Documentation and Criteria for Diagnostic Documentation. For SAT accommodation requests, click these links to the College Board website: Who Is Eligible? and Disability Documentation Guidelines.
When complying with the ACT and SAT documentation requirements, it is usually insufficient to send a general letter stating only the diagnosis of the student’s particular disability. A paper trail of the student’s difficulties is more helpful. This includes:
- Documentation of accommodations already provided in the educational setting and for standardized tests. (See step 3 below.)
- Reports from diagnosing professionals, tutors, therapists, etc.
- Copies of the individualized education program (IEP), individual service plan (ISP), or 504 accommodation plan if your student has ever received special education services or related services such as therapies, or taken classes through a public school. (Homeschooled students might have a written student education plan.)
Documentation requirements will vary based on the type of disability. For example, a student with a learning disability should provide cognitive and academic results, while a student with a visual disability should provide documentation from an examination by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
2. Thoughtfully Choose the Types of Accommodations Your Teen Needs.
The accommodations you request will depend on your teen’s needs and may be based on the accommodations you are already providing in the homeschool setting. For instance, a student with attention issues may need frequent breaks, while a student with dyslexia or slow processing speed may need extended time.
The ACT and SAT offer many different types of accommodations, including:
- extended time
- testing over multiple days
- reading accommodation (assistive technology)
- frequent breaks
- large-print booklet
- computer for the writing portion of the test
- alternate test formats such as braille, audio, or a reader
The College Board lists specific accommodations here.
3. Document Prior Accommodations.
Applicants must provide information about prior accommodations made in similar settings, such as academic classes and other testing situations.
The College Board states:
With few exceptions, students who request an accommodation on College Board exams receive that accommodation on tests that they take in school. However, students who receive an accommodation in school or have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan that includes the accommodation do not automatically qualify for the accommodation on College Board exams—they must still be approved by the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities, and in some cases documentation will be requested for the College Board’s review. (https://accommodations.collegeboard.org/eligibility)
Many homeschoolers do not have an IEP or 504 accommodation plan to document their child’s prior accommodations. To apply for SAT accommodations, we suggest you draft your own student education plan (or SEP, as HSLDA sometimes calls it) or home education accommodation plan.
An alternative is to write a letter describing the type of accommodations your student has received at home, in co-ops, and in other classroom settings. HSLDA members can access this sample letter to use as a guide for explaining the accommodations used in their home education program. Customize it based on your teen’s special needs and particular circumstances.
Homeschoolers applying for ACT accommodations must submit the ACT Exceptions Statement Form, which details the accommodations provided in the teen’s homeschool environment and program. HSLDA suggests that you also write a letter describing these accommodations.
For both the SAT and ACT, HSLDA’s Legal Department recommends that you include in the above documentation a note stating that you are a homeschooling parent educating your child in accordance with the law of your state.
4. Complete Teacher Surveys and All Additional Forms.
Teacher survey forms are supplemental means of substantiating a teen’s need for accommodations. While neither the College Board nor ACT requires these forms, HSLDA strongly suggests that you submit them. We’ve also spoken with an ACT representative who said that completing these forms was a good idea for homeschoolers.
Typically, the surveys are completed by public school teachers or guidance counselors and then included in the complete accommodations requests that schools submit for their students. Homeschool parents should think creatively in deciding who to ask to fill out these forms.
Those filling out a teacher survey should be able to write about your student’s special needs and how their disabilities or challenges impact daily life skills such as reading, writing, or staying on task. People who might complete the teacher survey form include:
- Co-op teacher
- Music or art teacher
- Sunday school teacher
- Sports coach
We know the accommodations process can be confusing for both tests. The four steps listed above highlight the primary actions you’ll need to take in applying for accommodations on either the SAT or ACT. Use these links to connect to helpful overviews of each test’s process:
- SAT: Accommodations on College Board Exams
- ACT: Accommodations and English Learner Supports for Educators