GAO: Accommodations pose challenges to testing companies, test-takers

Individuals with disabilities and testing companies that administer assessments for higher education admission report challenges regarding testing accommodations, ranging from problems in providing documentation to concerns about maintaining test integrity, according to research by the Government Accountability Office.

Some individuals had difficulty providing adequate documentation to justify their accommodations, according to representatives from six disability advocacy organizations. Officials from five testing companies described hardships in reviewing and granting accommodation requests.

For example, officials said it was difficult to determine a test-taker’s needs without a sufficient description of an individual’s disability. Officials from two companies voiced concerns about providing appropriate accommodation access while also protecting test integrity. 

In its analysis, GAO reviewed accommodation data from the six testing companies that administer the ACT, AP exams, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, PSAT, and SAT — tests that are commonly associated with admission into undergraduate, graduate, medical and law school programs. The data are from the 2019-2020 school year, the most recent available.

The most common accommodation provided by the testing companies — requested by and granted to 55% of test takers — was extended test taking time of 25%, 50% or 100%. About 2 million students were provided extra time for tests in 2019-2020. 

The next most common requested and provided accommodation, at 22%, was adjustments to the testing environment, such as preferential seating or a separate room. About 838,000 students got that type of accommodation, according to GAO. Other accommodations included alternate test format (6%), auditory or visual assistance (6%), breaks (4%), and “other” (8%).

The report included a short description of how the onset of the pandemic made testing accommodations more complicated due to social distancing requirements and incompatibility of online test proctoring systems with certain screen reading software used by individuals with visual impairments.

GAO did not make any recommendations in the report but did note that the U.S. Department of Justice — which enforces the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 related to testing accommodations — has a process for investigating or referring reports of potential violations, intervening in private litigation and clarifying requirements to promote compliance.

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