Students with learning disabilities can now easily ask for testing accommodations

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- This month, Austin Independent School District sophomores are getting their PSAT scores, a test students take to help prepare for the SAT. It can be an intimidating exam for any student, but even more so if you have a learning disability.

Austin High School sophomore Ben Cooper has dyslexia. "My decoding skills are a lot slower than others, they're not as good a regular student. So, I'm probably two grades below the reading level that I should be, or even lower."

But thanks to the help of tools like screen readers, Cooper is in Advanced Placement courses and is able to read a novel a week.

He and his mother Robbi submitted dozens of documents to the College Board, demonstrating his need for a screen reader or human reader to assist him on the PSAT. They were shocked when the request was denied.

"For me as a parent, I couldn't sleep," said Robbi. "These documents here represent about $10,000 worth of our money. And these weren't enough to get them to change their position."

Robbi says they knew they had the law on their side. She and Ben started a petition, calling on families to join them in their quest to challenge the College Board and its policies.

"I think people give up and I don't think a lot of families know what accommodations their children can use and are entitled to use," said Robbi.

Once they gathered thousands of signatures, they filed a complaint with the Department of Justice.

"This is a test that's going to decide your future," said Ben. "If you're not able to perform as well as you could, you may not be able to get into the colleges you want to."

Now the College Board is changing its policy, making it easier for qualified students to get accommodations. They say the change is due to educators, students and families asking them to simplify the process.

The streamlined process will now require schools to answer just two questions about the student:

  1. Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student's plan?
  2. Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?

They say beginning this year, the vast majority of students who are approved for and using accommodations at their school will have the same accommodations automatically approved for taking the SAT, PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT, SAT Subject Tests and AP exams.

"It was a big win. Not only so he could take a test and honor his intellectual ability, but also so that no other family has to go through this and no other school has to go through this," said Robbi. "I felt like I could finally take a deep breath and know we finally got somewhere for others."

Robbi says the change will be for nothing if families don't take advantage of the accommodations. She encourages parents and students to learn more about accommodations and deadlines to apply for them. 

Robbi is also the State Chapter Chair for Decoding Dyslexia, and invites parents to reach out for support.

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