NCLD Announces The COVID-19 Impact Scholarship Winners

The COVID-19 Pandemic has created significant disruptions to the college and life plans of young adults with learning and attention issues all across the country. Students are changing their college plans, reducing credit loads, losing out on internship and job opportunities, and dealing with the consequences of a global pandemic. NCLD recognizes the hardship our young adults are facing and has put together a new scholarship intended to support those students whose college and life plans have been significantly impacted by COVID-19.

The pandemic wreaked havoc on the lives of so many, and we know for young adults, especially those with learning and attention issues, it has been especially difficult. We are excited to support these terrific students as they work hard to continue their college and career dreams in the face of COVID. We can’t wait to see all they accomplish!

Lindsay Jones, NCLD President and CEO

This year, NCLD is awarding twelve $1,500 scholarships to those students who experienced significant disruptions in their undergraduate or graduate plans due to COVID-19. The financial and academic disruptions caused by COVID-19 can impact students for years to come, but we hope the scholarship can support them to accomplishing their goals during this difficult time.

“Thanks to everyone at NCLD for giving me this financial gift to use to continue my educational journey! It will be a gift that keeps on giving, as the funds will be used to earn a social work degree!” 

Lance Dutenhafer, Scholarship Winner

“I plan to use this scholarship to supplement my costs for books, medication, and to attend a peer support group. I believe this will help immensely and I am honored to be a recipient!”

 Makayla Kovar, Scholarship Winner

Congratulations to the twelve 2021 COVID-19 Impact Scholarship winners:

When a Yoga Mat Becomes a Lifeline

When COVID-19 began, I sat down to write a blog post. Finding Focus in the Unexpected chronicled my journey to self-acceptance, and told how practicing yoga helped me make commitments to myself and to my well-being. Fast-forward a year into the pandemic, and I found that yoga was something I needed more than ever. In January 2021, I was laid off from my job, leaving me shocked and numb. I didn’t know how to feel, so I opted to pour my heart onto my yoga mat to heal.  

I had started my part-time job in the early days of the pandemic. It wasn’t easy. I had little face-to-face contact with my colleagues until the fall when our organization’s volunteer program began to take off. As the coordinator of this program, I met with my team frequently in my hometown of New York City to keep the program organized. As the first season ended, it was clear that the program was a success. I sensed that there would be a change in my title and even a raise in the new year. I went about doing my work from home on the East End of Long Island with little idea of how to balance work with self-care. 

Amid this lack of stability while working from home, I let my yoga practice fall by the wayside. I took walks every day, but I struggled to find my groove in an at-home yoga routine. Like most people with ADHD, I have faced challenges in executive functioning, and I’ve had to learn skills for managing my life and taking care of my own needs. I admit to having put other people’s needs before my own, which meant I neglected my yoga practice. I longed for my pre-pandemic life: Monday evenings, when I would attend a yoga “flow” class with my friend and instructor Claudia. The occasional Friday morning “chill” class with Stefanie, another friend and instructor. My yoga practice once had a strict schedule. Without that, I couldn’t find the strength in me to get back on the mat. 

When I lost my job, I decided it was time to get back into an exercise routine that included yoga. On my second day of practicing yoga alongside on-demand videos, I went to reach for my toes and inhaled a routine breath. When I came up on the exhale, I started to cry. I finally felt the sharp, emotional pain that comes with a surge of sadness. This feeling was not the numbness I had felt before. Instead, I had feelings of loneliness and sadness.

I wondered if I would recover from the shock and uncertainty of not having a job. I have been defined by my work since I graduated from college in 2018. I didn’t know a life where I was not a person in the working world. My job prospects filled me with fear. And I was afraid to face my true feelings surrounding being let go. 

Losing my job was not on my terms. I have always strived to be my own person. I am more than a person with ADHD. I’m a young adult who loves to explore New York City, visit national parks, bake bread, and travel. And I’m dedicated to my yoga practice. 

In that moment of loneliness and sadness, I decided to keep moving and finish the on-demand class. I had come far in my emotional journey in less than five minutes. There was no turning back! 

The good news was that my yoga practice was well on its way to coming back. I had found a way to connect with my favorite instructors. Claudia had recorded some classes before the pandemic, and I was able to watch them on my own time through an on-demand platform. This made it much easier to get back to my yoga mat. While Claudia wasn’t with me in person, her expressions and guidance made me feel as if she were there for me and with me. Stefanie’s classes also offered escape. While we couldn’t meet in person, I was reconnecting with those who had always fostered a community of love and acceptance during some of the trying times I had faced in the past. 

With each downward dog, child’s pose, pyramid pose, and Shavasana (resting pose), I felt stronger. I was on my way to healing from the loss of my job. From that day forward, I pledged to talk about what I was feeling.

I’ve come a long way from the days when the school psychologist would ask if I knew any words besides “good” or “OK” to describe my feelings. As a kid, I had worked with therapists because I struggled to communicate. These therapists would try to coax information out of me. I could not get the words out. In my young adult years, I’ve gotten a lot better at sharing feelings.

Yoga has enabled me to open up. It’s a commitment to myself to heal and honor the things I have control over. I even increased my range of mobility and vocabulary to describe my feelings! I went from being reserved to being stronger — in one instance being able to articulate that I was mentally tired and could not commit to getting through a long seminar.

Yoga continues to help me in ways I never imagined. And to this day, I always find a way to get my practice into my schedule. I’ve decided that I need to bend and curve. I can’t change the fact that I was laid off — but I can own the narrative.

This blog was written by Julia Kaback, one of NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council members.

What Makes an NCLD Everyday Champion?

Over the last year and a half and counting, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented multiple challenges to keep learning going in schools for all students, and most specifically students with disabilities. And through these obstacles, we’ve seen the unique ways in which courageous educators and administrators have innovated to continually support student needs.

In 2020 the NCLD created The Everyday Champion Award (ECA) to shine a light on these innovators. We called on our community to nominate champions who went above and beyond to serve students during the critical transition to remote learning. And this year, we are once again calling on you to help highlight the educators and school administrators who continue to make a positive impact in the lives of students during this time.

So, what makes an NCLD Everyday Champion? We spoke to our 2020 ECA winners, Truman Solverud, the educator award winner, and Christine Baeta, the administrator award winner, to learn more about their stories and the impact of the recognition thus far. In the Q & A below, Truman and Christine answer key questions about their experiences over the last year.

Truman Solverud, ECA 2020 Educator Award Winner.
Laramie, WY

What does being an Everyday Champion mean to you?

Being nominated and chosen as an Everyday Champion was a rare affirmation of my approach and ethic that I bring to my work with students and families. It was especially meaningful as a newer teacher working during an incredibly difficult time in education. It created opportunities for personal growth and higher-level community engagement in educational conversations and initiatives.

What was your favorite part of being recognized as an Everyday Champion Finalist or Awardee?

The opportunity to share the incredible work that my school is doing to support students in our community, to a wider audience was awesome!  Although participating in the annual fundraiser in person would’ve been special, working with the NCLD team to tell our story through the video production turned out to be one of the highlights of the experience and our school year. Our students were able to participate and see the process which was pretty neat. For me personally, the buzz created by the award opened doors for me to participate and advocate in our community discussions and initiatives that not only support students with learning disabilities, but to lift up education as a whole. These connections have created relationships and partnerships that have created opportunities for the students and families that I work with every day! 

How have you continued to be an Everyday Champion through the COVID-19 pandemic and in the 2021 school year?

Although we were able to return to “in person” learning this year, it was still incredibly challenging. We dealt with a lot of attendance issues with students and staff, as a result of Covid protocols, that were hard on all students, but especially students who experienced barriers in the classroom as a result of learning disabilities. This required patience, flexibility, and resourcefulness on my part, as a special education teacher, and all of the staff and students in our building. The emphasis on our student’s social and emotional well-being has been paramount and an important component of their readiness to learn. Communication, collaboration, and a positive attitude were more important than ever. 

What else would you like to share with NCLD and the LD community?

Students that face challenges in the classroom as a result of learning disabilities are the students that are silently struggling, mightily and silently during this challenging time for education. The type of support they require in the classroom is the hardest to adapt to remote and blended models, and because of their numbers and tendency to fly under the radar, this is where our work as special education teachers has to be focused. The impact of their struggles will be felt long after school returns to normal, as they fall further behind in skill development and graduation progress. Narrowing these gaps will require creativity, intentionality, and a collaborative approach between general and special education teachers at a much higher level than we have seen in the past.


Christine Baeta, ECA 2020 Administrator Award Winner.
Sacramento, CA

What does being an Everyday Champion mean to you

As the mom of four kids with learning disabilities, and a lifetime educator, this is truly one of the most tender honors I have experienced. 

What was your favorite part of being recognized as an Everyday Champion Finalist or Awardee?

Hearing the stories of the other champions and how people responded to my story was just amazing. The increased awareness of NCLD, their work, and their advocacy. Just yesterday, in a professional meeting, the team we met with from our district saw the video, and knew about my daughter, my children, and our story. This anchored our work and provided for a connection. I love that the needs of students with disabilities are being recognized and celebrated.

How have you continued to be an Everyday Champion through the COVID-19 pandemic and in the 2021 school year?

The pandemic has actually offered the opportunity to reflect and improve on previous practice.  In Sacramento City Unified, we designed and offered Learning Hub and summer opportunities for our most vulnerable students including our students with disabilities. We designed our summer programming for inclusion. Our systemic MTSS and UDL professional learning continued through the year as we work to ensure that our educators have the support they need to ensure access and success for all. There is much work needed but I am so excited for our trajectory.


The Everyday Champion Award presents an educator and an administrator $5,000 each, to honor their exceptional efforts. The application closes on the 24th of August, 2021.

Nominate a champion today!

2021 Anne Ford Scholarship Winners

NCLD awards our Anne & Allegra Ford scholarships each year, but this year, as a result of COVID-19, we had to take a different approach. We received thousands of applications from students across the country, our biggest candidate pool ever, and instead of awarding one winner, with the support of a fabulous donor, we were able to award two winners for the 2021 scholarship. We are so proud of all of the amazing applicants and are pleased to introduce you to our two winners of the Anne Ford Scholarship.

This year, NCLD has awarded the scholarships to two incredible young adults in an attempt to ensure the college and career dreams of young adults with learning disabilities. In addition to the four winners, honorable mentions were selected for their exceptional academic achievement, engagement in both school and community activities, and demonstrated leadership for others with learning disabilities and attention issues. 

Congratulations to the 2021 Anne Ford Scholarship winners: 

Jocelynn Dow

Jocelynn Dow is a graduate of Freehold High School in Freehold, New Jersey. She is an artist, scholar, athlete, and activist. At FHS, Jocelynn served as class president, was a three-sport varsity athlete, and excelled academically as an AP scholar and National Honor Society inductee with a 4.6 cumulative GPA. Jocelynn has dedicated herself to using her gifts and talents to improve her community through volunteerism. She has completed well over 1,000 hours of service to date. As a result of her volunteerism, Jocelynn has been recognized and celebrated locally, regionally, and even nationally via numerous Gold Presidential Volunteer Service Awards. Art has been the limn through which Jocelynn expresses herself since discovering her passion for art in elementary school. As an artist, Jocelynn wants her creations to inspire others and ignite change, to bring communities together, and to give an expressive voice to the unheard. Through hard work and dedication, positivity, and commitment to others, Jocelynn aspires to help a new generation of young people find their voice to bring greater visibility and representation to women of color and marginalized groups everywhere. Jocelynn is pursuing a bachelor of fine arts degree while minoring in Africana studies and creative writing at Rutgers University’s Honors College as a student of the Mason Gross School of the Arts.

 Chidera Ejiofor

Chidera Ejiofor grew up in Houston, Texas, and will attend the University of Houston to study biology. Chidera was known as the kid who blurted out during class, could never sit still, and struggled in math class. She was diagnosed with ADHD when she was in second grade and acknowledges that it has been a major factor for shaping the woman she is today. She graduated from Westside High School in 2021 in the top 15 percent of her class and became a certified pharmacy technician at the age of 17. At WHS, Chidera was the president of her campus’s Black Student Union. In addition, she participated in the National Honor Society, HOSA (future health professionals), and student council. When asked how she would like to advocate for others, she spoke about what advocacy means to her and what she hopes to do in the future. She explained: “Advocacy means making sure there are resources available in all communities.” She hopes to set up programs that will provide easy access to psychiatry and mentoring for individuals with ADHD. She believes that a learning disability only makes your journey more unique.

Honorable Mentions

About the Anne Ford Scholarship

Founded in 2002, the Anne Ford Scholarship is a four-year award, worth $2,500 each year. It is awarded to a graduating high school senior who will be enrolled in a full-time bachelor’s degree program in the fall. To qualify for the Anne Ford Scholarship, students must have a grade point average of 3.0 or above, submit their current financial information, and provide documentation of their identified learning disability. 

Anne Ford is an advocate and spokesperson for individuals with learning disabilities and attention issues. She currently serves as a member of NCLD’s Board of Directors.

2021 Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship Winners

NCLD awards our Anne & Allegra Ford scholarships each year, but this year, as a result of COVID-19, we had to take a different approach. We received thousands of applications from students across the country, our biggest candidate pool ever, and instead of awarding one winner, with the support of a fabulous donor, we were able to award two winners for the 2021 scholarship. We are so proud of all of the amazing applicants and are pleased to introduce you to our two winners of the Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship

This year, NCLD has awarded the scholarships to two incredible young adults in an attempt to ensure the college and career dreams of young adults with learning disabilities. In addition to the four winners, honorable mentions were selected for their exceptional academic achievement, engagement in both school and community activities, and demonstrated leadership for others with learning disabilities and attention issues. 

Congratulations to the 2021 Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship winners:  

Lys Fabian

Lys Fabian, of Mayfield, Kentucky, is a 2021 honor graduate of Mayfield High School, with a 3.86 GPA and class rank 19 out of 103. In the fall of 2021, she will attend West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah to major in dental hygiene. Lys was diagnosed with a specific learning disability in the sixth grade. She learned so many ways to be successful in her education with the support of her family, friends, and teachers. She is also very active in her local community and school. She played the alto saxophone in the marching band during all four years of high school. She was involved in the Graves County ASAP club to make a difference in her community and served as a Beta club member. Last but not least, she volunteers daily as a peer mentor for students with special needs at Mayfield Middle School. She is honored to receive this Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship only for people like her. She never thought she would come this far to be one of the 2021 scholarship recipients. Her goal is to be successful in life, be a role model for other students who have the same disability she does, and to never let her learning disability stop her from doing the things she never thought she could. She plans to graduate with her associate’s degree to become a dental hygienist, her dream job.

Juliana Ramai

Juliana Ramai comes from Centereach, New York, and graduated from Centereach High School as an honor student. At Centereach High School, Juliana was the treasurer for SkillsUSA in the cosmetology program. She received several cords at graduation for being a member of the National Technical Honor Society and for receiving the Presidential Award for three consecutive years for completing over 100 community service volunteer hours with the Girl Scouts. She also received the Presidential Academic Excellence Award for being on the honor roll for four years, as well as an award from the National Honor Society for her academics. Juliana graduated with a license for cosmetology. She hopes to be a special education or early childhood teacher and plans to major in mathematics. She will attend Suffolk County Community College and plans to transfer to St. Joseph’s College to get her bachelor’s degree.  

Honorable Mentions

About the Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship

Founded in 2012, The Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship is a two-year award, worth $2,500 each year. It is awarded to a graduating high school senior who will be enrolled in a two-year community college, vocational or technical training program, or specialized program. To qualify for the Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship, students must submit their current financial information and provide documentation of their identified learning disability. 
Allegra Ford Thomas is the daughter of Anne Ford and founder of the Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship. She was diagnosed with a learning disability at an early age and became the subject of her mother’s memoir Laughing Allegra, which described the experiences of raising a child with learning disabilities. Thomas, like her mother, advocates for children with learning disabilities.

ACT Announces New Process for Accommodations: How Will Students with Disabilities Benefit?

On July 21, 2021, ACT. announced that it is adopting an easier process for implementing accommodations for those with disabilities by transferring accommodations granted in IEPs and 504 plans directly to its eponymous test starting in the 2021-2022 school year. This is important news and a long-needed change. How big of a win is this for students with disabilities? First, we need some context. In 2018 Inside Higher Ed reported the ACT was sued for selling sensitive disability information to colleges and scholarship agencies in order to get an edge on its competitor, the College Board, which administers the SAT. Despite denying wrongdoing the ACT agreed to stop including disability information in their sales in 2018 but the case would not be resolved until October 2020. The class action lawsuit was filed with U.S. District Court in Los Angeles which resulted in ACT agreeing to pay $16 million dollars to students in California “only to avoid the litigation cost and uncertainty of prolonged litigation.” as stated in a follow up article in Inside Higher Ed in October 2020. ACT is under pressure to appease groups that are eager to reform their system of granting accommodations and using student data. Given this context some might view the recent  announcement by the ACT as a move to appease watchdogs and students that pose a legal threat and stifle the momentum of future cases with the ground for successful litigation. 

As reported by the media, ACT was fined by the courts for their practice of selling private disability data to colleges and universities. This point is important because students who took the ACT argued that their private disability information was shared without their knowledge and prevented them from admission to colleges and universities. The court found this practice a violation of the ADA. Historically, testing agencies often enforced unclear confidentiality practices as they related to accommodations–until they were required to by law (Inside Higher Ed. 2018). Many students worry that by having their private disability information sold to colleges and universities, it would be used to flag and deny people with disabilities college admission, financial aid awards, and scholarships. This is institutional ableism. 

The move to make the accommodation process smoother is welcomed but is something that should already be in place. The federal government outlines the steps and procedures, in alignment with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), that testing agencies such as ACT should be using in their accommodation decisions. Removing barriers to receiving testing accommodations is a critical improvement, but people with disabilities have grown to mistrust the process, testing agencies, and system enough to avoid using or it or feeling exploited when they do. With the new accommodation processes coming into place schools will need to continue to be mindful in crafting IEPs and 504 plans to clearly specify accommodations that apply to testing situations. Those without an IEP or 504 plan can still apply for accommodations under the protection granted by the ADA. A lingering question I, and many other young adults, have is whether the new uniform process for accommodations could make it harder for those without IEPs or 504 plans to obtain testing accommodations. As a community we will have to be diligent in ensuring students have equitable access to these important accommodations.

This is an installment in the series Learning Disabilities and High-Stakes Testing. High-stakes testing is used for admission to postsecondary educational institutions or career licensure exams. This series confronts issues pertaining to high-stakes tests for the 1 in 5 people with learning and attention issues.

Written by Young Adult Leadership Council member, Kayla Queen.

Current Testing Trends

High-stakes tests in the form of entrance exams have been commonplace for the majority of prospective college students for more than 60 years. The initial purpose of these exams, such as the ACT (first introduced in 1959), was to standardize the application process and increase access to higher education. But these tests now are often the source of decreased access. 

In recent years, we have seen more entities acknowledge that these tests are biased, favoring privileged students and creating even more disadvantages for those with disabilities and lower socioeconomic power. Some academic institutions have responded to this by becoming test-optional or even omitting these exams altogether. Additionally, testing initiatives have been altered or eliminated both temporarily and permanently in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And a recent settlement in California further secured the trajectory of college admissions away from standardized entrance exams, calling for the elimination of the SAT and the ACT in the UC System admissions process.

Zachary Goldberg, executive director of media relations and external communications at The College Board, admitted weaknesses in the test when speaking of socioeconomically disadvantaged school districts. He stated that there are “performance differences across groups of students [that] reflect an unequal K–12 system.”

The College Board suggests that college admissions offices be cognizant of demographic discrepancies — but fails to mention measures The College Board itself could take to develop equitable assessments. Instead, testing agencies seek to create markets and capitalize on earning potential, which sometimes leads to additional points of inequitable access. For example, in addition to profit made directly from the test, testing agencies have introduced costly supplemental test preparation products. This creates even less equality of access between those who can and cannot afford such products. These products also fail to resolve the fundamental issues facing test takers with learning disabilities, while simultaneously inflating the competition. The personal interest testing agencies have is problematic in the context of education.  

While some institutions are easing off tests such as the SAT and ACT, others — including half of the top 100 colleges and universities — have remained vested in test scores and gain prestige from statistics about their students’ scores. This creates a cycle: competition for high test scores is fueled, resulting in increased standards for admission to elite schools, followed by more competition and more increased standards. Data collected through schools using the Common Application, an application service that allows students to use the same application for multiple schools, found that while test score submissions dropped overall during 2020, rates of test score submission remained higher at selective schools than at less selective schools. And the rate of submission remained higher overall for Asian and white students, who generally score higher on these exams. 

Given all of these barriers, frequently marginalized groups — including those with learning disabilities — are likely to score lower on standardized assessments. This reduces their ability to gain access to these selective schools. For instance, selective large and small private schools and selective large public schools have the highest rate for score submission, with selective large private schools having the highest incidences of score submission overall. However, it is important to note that overall score submission has declined for almost every category of school between 2019 and 2020. 

While test scores are helpful in indicating which students have benefits that will help them do well, they fail to provide fair consideration for other top minds. Test scores may indicate that a prospective student is smart, wealthy, and neurotypical, but GPA still surpasses test scores as the best indicator of future academic success. At institutions where both test scores and GPA are used, GPA is given less weight. The knowledge and skills of students with learning disabilities, more accurately represented by their GPAs than by their test scores, are being undervalued by these schools. 
Educational institutions need to empower all students, not just the ones they are most accustomed to educating. Higher education is intended to elevate one’s thinking and advance one’s abilities, important factors in social mobility that all should have. Students with learning disabilities can and do excel beyond what test results indicate. They are ready to capitalize on educational opportunities if given a fair chance.

This is an installment in the series Learning Disabilities and High-Stakes Testing. High-stakes testing is used for admission to postsecondary educational institutions or career licensure exams. This series confronts issues pertaining to high-stakes tests for the 1 in 5 people with learning and attention issues.

Written by Young Adult Leadership Council member, Kayla Queen.

Seeking Accommodations: Rachelle’s Experience

Rachelle is an exceptionally bright student seeking admission to a Ph.D. program. She is a high achiever and overwhelmed by the prospect of having to compromise her goals if she underperforms on a standardized test. She is driven to do everything in her power to prepare well for standardized entrance exams, the most recent one being the GRE. For Rachelle, this entails more than being a good student and doing run-of-the-mill test prep. She must work for fair treatment — to which she is entitled under the law. Due to Rachelle’s dyslexia, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers her legal protection. The ADA specifies that tests need to offer accommodations to reflect the test taker’s ability, not their disability. For Rachelle, this includes addressing differences that become issues when she takes standardized tests, such as taking more time to complete tasks or having issues with spelling that could drag down her score. Regarding her decision to pursue accommodations, Rachelle said, “I needed to. I knew I would never finish the exam within the time limit.”

For Rachelle, getting accommodations on a standardized test has involved the extra burden of navigating the online application, undergoing reassessment — a time-consuming endeavor that can cost upwards of $500 — and providing supplemental documentation. The additional barriers of the testing accommodation process can be a source of pressure and feelings of being misunderstood. 

Rachelle took it upon herself to make the best case she could for her request when applying for accommodations for the GRE. “I collected information for a month,” she said, “and turned in an inch-thick stack of papers as evidence of my disability and accommodation needs, waited eight weeks to hear back, and then still got denied some of the needed accommodations I requested.”

Her evidence of needs consisted of letters from grade school teachers and college professors, self-written letters testifying of her learning disability, records from standardized tests from the time of her diagnosis in second grade and onwards, a record of the performance differences she experienced in middle school when she lost accommodations, the IEP she had in grade school, documentation of her university accommodations, a recent reevaluation, and proof of accommodations on previous high-stakes tests such as the AP exams and the ACT.

In accordance with the ADA and our current knowledge of the nature of learning disabilities, her history of dyslexia should have been proof enough for her to receive the accommodations she is permitted under law. Yet she was still denied some of the needed accommodations — even accommodations she had been granted on similar tests. 

For Rachelle, the experience of seeking accommodations was invalidating: She was put in a position of having to prove her disabilities when, according to the ADA, the documented history of her diagnosis and struggles since early elementary school should have been proof enough. Rachelle has been denied the following accommodations by testing agencies: taking the exam across multiple days (GRE) and using spell-check (both the ACT and GRE), while using spell-check was granted on her AP test. Difficulty with spelling has long been a hallmark of dyslexia and is not something that should be held against someone with dyslexia when measuring their potential and other abilities. The need for multiple test days is not one that should be dismissed either. Individuals who take longer to complete a task are more likely to face a level of fatigue not encountered by their peers. Stretching tests over multiple days is a reasonable measure that can be provided for those with learning and attention differences. 

Seeking accommodations can be emotionally draining, time-consuming, and a financial burden. While individuals with learning disabilities often overcome obstacles to meet their goals, they deserve the same opportunities that their peers enjoy. Testing agencies need to be held accountable for following the ADA and other civil rights laws that ensure the rights of people with disabilities. The process for requesting accommodations needs to be streamlined. Accommodations should be granted quickly and appropriately. And exams should be created to assess knowledge that can be demonstrated in multiple ways.

While students, parents, and advocates can work together to build a strong case for a student’s needed testing accommodations, more action may be needed. The federal government can hold testing agencies accountable, and students can seek to have requirements waived. As individuals with learning disabilities, we face inequitable barriers to demonstrating our knowledge and skills on these problematic high-stakes assessments.

This is an installment in the series Learning Disabilities and High-Stakes Testing. High-stakes testing is used for admission to postsecondary educational institutions or career licensure exams. This series confronts issues pertaining to high-stakes tests for the 1 in 5 people with learning and attention issues.

Written by Young Adult Leadership Council Member, Kayla Queen.

Seeking Accommodations: Taylor’s Experience

Taylor is an aspiring teacher who is completing her student teaching. Before starting her student teaching, she had to consider how she was going to pass the Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL) with her learning disability. For Taylor, becoming an educator hinges on receiving a passing score on the MTEL. In her everyday life, Taylor has adopted strategies and tools and is competent in the tested subject areas of the MTEL. But when she is being tested under restricted resources and with limited time, her learning disability becomes a barrier.

The request process for alternative test arrangements for the MTEL requires both the submission of a diagnostic test and a signed note that includes the recommended accommodations “by a qualified professional whose license or credentials are appropriate to diagnose the condition” or verified by the “Office of Disability Services at the candidate’s college or university [or the] Department of Vocational Rehabilitation office in the candidate’s state of residency.” The process also outlines that these documents must not be older than five years or predate high school.

Taylor’s initial evaluation did not meet these specifications. It was not until she completed and submitted a new evaluation by a psychologist that she was approved by the testing agency to receive accommodations on the test. For Taylor, these accommodations included a four-function calculator and a testing window of time and a half. But her journey to getting these accommodations involved going through the alternative test arrangement process, spending time locating a provider who is qualified to perform adult learning disability evaluations without a year-plus waitlist, scheduling and waiting for an appointment, traveling from her residence in a rural part of the state, taking the lengthy evaluation itself, and waiting for the results. 

Once accommodations are approved, applying them to one’s test slot can be tricky. Students with learning disabilities like Taylor are likely to experience delays in test registration, as they are encouraged to wait until documentation is approved to register for a test date with their accommodations properly applied. Since it took significant time to get everything submitted, approved, and properly applied, Taylor initially took the first portion of the test, Communication and Literacy Skills, without accommodations.

For the MTEL, test takers are responsible for navigating an alternative scheduling process via email or phone, in which they must self-identify as someone approved for alternative test arrangements. If there is any miscommunication on this point, MTEL indicates that by default test takers will be scheduled without accommodations. Thus individuals with learning disabilities have the additional concern of verifying that everything is properly set up. A complication like this would have been particularly stressful for someone like Taylor, who traveled across the state the day of her test and would have been in a very difficult position if the test had not been arranged correctly.

Individuals with learning disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which issues requirements for entities that administer tests like the MTEL. Under the parameters described by the ADA: “Failure by a testing entity to act in a timely manner, coupled with seeking unnecessary documentation, could result in such an extended delay that it constitutes a denial of equal opportunity or equal treatment in an examination setting for persons with disabilities.” Taylor did not receive equal opportunity at the level she should have. The documentation she initially submitted should have been given more consideration. And she should have been given the opportunity to provide supplemental documentation from her education history under the ADA. The ADA guarantees that “a testing entity must respond in a timely manner to requests for testing accommodations so as to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities.” If this had been the case, Taylor would have been approved for her initial request in time for the Communication and Literacy Skills test that she initially took without accommodations, as, according to the ADA, “an absence of previous formal testing accommodations does not preclude a candidate from receiving testing accommodations.”

Grade school students can benefit from having more teachers with learning disabilities. But unless the requirements outlined by the ADA are upheld, future educators like Taylor may continue to face barriers to licensure.

This is an installment in the series Learning Disabilities and High-Stakes Testing. High-stakes testing is used for admission to postsecondary educational institutions or career licensure exams. This series confronts issues pertaining to high-stakes tests for the 1 in 5 people with learning and attention issues.

Written by Young Adult Leadership Council Member, Kayla Queen.

Obstacles in High-Stakes Tests for Those With Learning Disabilities

A lot of people have misconceptions about what it means to have learning disabilities and attention issues, thinking that people with these challenges cannot thrive academically or professionally. But by definition, people with LDs have average or above-average intelligence. The barriers they face when taking entrance and professional exams are nothing to do with academic or professional ability. 

People with learning disabilities think and function in ways that match their unique strengths and weaknesses. But when they’re required to perform according to the predominant way of thinking and doing, such as standardized tests, their abilities can’t shine. Accommodations make it possible for them to show their skills and knowledge in ways that work for them. But the process of receiving accommodations can be an obstacle.

One of the most common issues is providing documentation of a learning or attention issue. Testing agencies such as The College Board prefer documentation in the form of a psychoeducational evaluation. But people often find that their most recent psychoeducational evaluation is considered out-of-date. Sometimes, these evaluations are written with an “expiration date” despite the unchanging nature of learning and attention differences. Students in areas with shortages of qualified evaluators have received accommodations without formal testing, and therefore don’t have a psychoeducational evaluation. For example, private schools are more likely to accommodate their students without formal documentation. Twice-exceptional students also often receive accommodations without evaluation — and they may not want to jeopardize their current school accommodations by being evaluated. Many would rather take their chances with entrance and professional exams.

Evaluations may be cost-prohibitive, especially for those of lower socioeconomic status. Those who live in poorer school districts are disproportionately affected, as students in these districts rely on public schools for identification and documentation. Yet these school districts face low budgets, understaffing, and lack of training in identifying those with a learning disability. This may mean that students who should have been able to receive a free diagnosis, documentation, and support through their school face barrier upon barrier. And as a history of past accommodations is a key component for making a strong case when requesting testing accommodations, having no such documentation makes it harder to get testing accommodations.

Time constraints can be a frustrating issue, too. The length of time needed for the evaluation process (from getting an evaluation appointment through receiving and submitting the results), limited test dates, and limited slots for those in need of accommodations on specific test dates all add to the problem. Those who seek accommodations must meet the deadline for requests and present documentation by the deadline for their desired test date, which can be a month to two months before the test. The College Board indicates that it then takes around seven weeks to approve or deny a request.

There also is a lack of clarity about what accommodations are available, what requests are often accepted, what metrics are used in determining the need for accommodation, and what will happen if a request does not go as planned. For example, The College Board website states that they will consider all reasonable accommodations. What is a “reasonable accommodation” is a contested point. So applicants start strategizing.

Some applicants decide that they’ll just apply to test-optional schools and avoid the whole issue. Those who want to apply to a school that requires a test, may request less than what they really need, hoping to secure some degree of accommodation approval and avoid interference with their timeline. And others approach test accommodations with the mindset of accumulating all the accommodations they can get, figuring it’s better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.

However, since requests are approved and denied on an individual basis at the discretion of the test provider, there is little (other than ADA guidelines) to enforce equity, and even less for test takers to base their strategy on. With no promises that an accommodation will be granted or necessarily be an accommodation that is helpful, many students decide to skip this time-consuming process and use their time and energy in different ways. If additional studying isn’t enough to compensate for challenges in test taking, some may end up reconsidering their goals. In other cases, extra study may enable a test taker to get a pretty good score without accommodations, but this student will still be at a disadvantage regarding scholarships, fellowships, and other opportunities where these scores are considered. And many students will experience steeper effects of perpetual marginalizations. 

Another issue is the viability of the test themselves. GPA is a better predictor of college success than test scores. It could be that GPA is a better measure of work ethic. And teachers have a certain degree of freedom to implement assessments that reflect the skills, abilities, and knowledge of their students.

While entrance exams were created to be an objective measure of aptitude, some bias still remains. Students who do not fit the profile of traditional college students are not served well if we fail to ask “How has our understanding of these tests changed over time?” and “What changes need to be made now to fit our improved understanding?” With privilege embodied and perpetuated in these tests, social stratification persists. Higher education and its resulting civic engagement have been made less attainable for some of those who could benefit from it the most: those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those with learning disabilities or other disabilities.

While initiatives to make these tests more equitable are vital to the needs of those traditionally marginalized, they don’t fully address the implicit bias these tests embody. If new versions are not specifically designed to tease out the triumphs and potential of specific populations, the meaning of entrance exams will remain lost.

This is an installment in the series Learning Disabilities and High-Stakes Testing. High-stakes testing is used for admission to postsecondary educational institutions or career licensure exams. This series confronts issues pertaining to high-stakes tests for the 1 in 5 people with learning and attention issues.

Written by Young Adult Leadership Council Member, Kayla Queen.

Colleges & Careers: Deciding to Opt In or Out of High-Stakes Tests

Opting In to High-Stakes Tests

For prospective students and professionals who want to pursue certain degrees and careers, high-stakes tests will often be necessary. These may include admission exams such as the SAT and ACT for undergrads, and tests like the MCAT or GRE for those applying to graduate school. Licensure exams, such as the ASWB exam to become a licensed social worker or the bar exam to become a lawyer, are examples of career-specific exams. 

For those with a learning disability or another disability, testing accommodations are available. Accommodations that can be requested often include distraction-free rooms, extra time, assistive readers, use of a calculator, and more. The use of accommodations is kept confidential, so colleges and employers will not know if someone has a learning disability or used testing accommodations unless the individual discloses it. 

The process for being approved for testing accommodations includes submitting the online application for accommodations (with documentation supporting the requested accommodations), awaiting review, and, if approved, following the instructions for scheduling a test date. This process can take a while, so it’s best to have the application for accommodations completed two to six months before the desired test date. The testing agency may grant all, some, or none of the requested accommodations. Then the test taker can decide whether to provide supplemental documentation or appeal the decision. 

Don’t be deterred from seeking testing accommodations if you don’t have the testing agency’s preferred form of documentation or if your diagnosis is out of date. Individuals with learning disabilities are protected by law under ADA, which specifies that someone who illustrates a history of struggles characteristic of a learning disability and who has received informal accommodations should be eligible. To build a strong case for yourself, review the ADA guidelines on high-stakes testing. Then do your best to match what you have with what the testing agency wants. Be mindful to craft your documentation to illustrate your need specifically to the accommodations you’re requesting.

Opting Out of High-Stakes Tests

If you’re not sold on the idea of attending an institution that requires an exam such as the SAT or ACT, test-optional colleges and universities may be a better fit. Test-optional schools give applicants a choice about whether to submit test scores. (There are even some schools that don’t accept test scores at all.) About half of the top 100 liberal arts colleges are test-optional. So while options may be more limited, you can still pursue admission to many of the most prestigious schools.  

Although this is not as common, some universities will waive the requirement for admissions testing, along with foreign language requirements, for those with a learning disability.

If you’re interested in a niche program offered at a school that requires test scores, consider approaching the school directly and negotiating an alternative. While universities tend to be sticklers about how they do things, you may end up pleasantly surprised. Either way, the response you receive will be a telltale sign of what the program’s climate is like for those with disabilities. 

As for careers, if you plan on being competitive in a field with licensure exams, gaining licensure will give you fuller access to the jobs you want. If you’re after a career that is more open-ended, you can build it if you prepare to chart some open water. In The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain, Brock Eide and Fernette Eide concluded that those with learning disabilities are often overrepresented in fields such as entrepreneurship. Their career growth does not become stunted when roles with heavy amounts of executive functioning are part of the promotional ladder, such as it is with middle management positions. Many careers struggle to be disability-friendly as there are often a set of protocols and assumptions about patience and competency.

Whatever direction you decide to go with your education and your career, there will be times of uncertainty and pivot points along the way. Consider all your options, consider where you can add value, and be fairly valued and compensated in return. Explore what job settings work with and against your needs and strengths. There is not a school or a career type that is better, only those that are better for you.

This is an installment in the series Learning Disabilities and High-Stakes Testing. High-stakes testing is used for admission to postsecondary educational institutions or career licensure exams. This series confronts issues pertaining to high-stakes tests for the 1 in 5 people with learning and attention issues.

Written by Young Adult Leadership Council member, Kayla Queen.

July 2021 Policy News Round-Up

The RISE Act is reintroduced in Congress to make college accessible for all, ACT changes its accommodations policy, the Senate holds a hearing on Catherine Lhamon’s OCR nomination, and the House Appropriations Committee advances the LHHS-ED bill. See how NCLD worked on behalf of students with disabilities this month.

The RISE Act is Introduced in Congress

On July 29th, the Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) and in the House of Representatives by Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Larry Bucshon (R-IN), Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA), and Kim Schrier (D-WA).

If passed, the RISE Act would improve the process for students who qualify for disability services by requiring colleges to accept a wider variety of forms of documentation, such as an Individualized Education Program (IEP), 504 plan, notice from a doctor, or an evaluation by a psychologist. Currently, the process for students to access accommodations is restrictive due to many colleges only accepting certain documentation, which has resulted in some students having to pay out-of-pocket for costly new evaluations. 

Read the House Press Release and Senate Press Release.

New ACT Policy Honors IEPs and 504 Plans for Testing Accommodations

The ACT college admissions test is updating its policy for accommodations requests to require less information and to accept requests for students with an IEP or 504 plan. Additionally, individuals with disabilities who do not have an IEP or 504 plan can still seek accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This change takes effect for the 2021-2022 school year

See here for more information on this updated policy.

Senate Hearing on the Nomination of Catherine Lhamon for OCR Assistant Secretary

On July 13th, the Senate held a hearing for the nomination of Catherine Lhamon for Assistant Secretary of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Education (ED). Ms. Lhamon previously served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at ED from 2013 to 2017. In her hearing, she commented that the majority (approximately 60%) of complaints that OCR receives pertain to students with disabilities. NCLD has supported Ms. Lhamon’s nomination due to her  demonstrated commitment to upholding the civil rights of all students. The Senate HELP Committee vote is scheduled for August 3rd. 

Read the support letter that NCLD submitted along with 30 other disability, education, and civil rights organizations here.

House Appropriations Committee Advances LHHS-ED Bill

On July 15, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS-ED) bill which would increase Fiscal Year 22 funding by $55.2 billion. Some specific program highlights of the bill include:

  • $2.6 billion (approx. 20%) increase for IDEA, Part B for a total of $15.5 billion
  • $19.5 billion (approx. 118%)  increase for schools with low-income students (Title I) for a total of $36 billion, 

Additionally, the Committee included report language (pages 126-127) reiterating the importance of LD research and urging the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at NIH to continue its investment in its Learning Disabilities Research Centers and Learning Disabilities Innovation Hubs.

The bill will next be voted on by the full House of Representatives before heading over to the Senate. For more information, including other educational program increases, see NCLD’s blog post. View the full draft text of the bill here

NCLD Provides Input to ED and OMB on Nondiscriminatory School Discipline, Advancing Equity, and the Secretary’s Supplemental Priorities

NCLD was pleased to submit three comment letters to ED and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). 

NCLD provided recommendations to OMB for methods and leading practices for advancing equity and support for underserved communities through government. Our recommendations, which highlight focusing on intersectional issues of race, income, language, and disability, can be found here

We also provided comments to ED on the nondiscriminatory administration of school discipline. NCLD is concerned about the evidence of disproportionate disciplinary actions on students of color, students with disabilities, and students of color with disabilities. Read our comments here

Lastly, NCLD submitted comments to ED on the Secretary’s proposed priorities to support a comprehensive agenda. NCLD is pleased to see the intentional mention of students with disabilities and school initiatives that benefit all students, including students with disabilities, within each of the proposed priorities. These included promoting Universal Design for Learning in educator preparation and pedagogical practices, providing multi-tiered systems of supports to meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs, and developing or implementing policies and practices that prevent or reduce significant disproportionality on the basis of race or ethnicity with respect to the identification, placement, and disciplining of children or students with disabilities. Read our comments of support and recommendations here

In case you missed it:

  • NCLD released a blog post on our analysis of states’ plans for spending American Rescue Plan funds. While most state plans have been submitted to ED, most districts are currently developing plans for their state education agency to review. We urge advocates to review their state and local plans and provide input. 

  • We know that schools are grappling with the impact of instructional loss and trauma on students’ academic progress and that many schools have experienced an increase in referrals for evaluations. To help districts and families navigate these complex challenges, NCLD has developed three briefs to inform state and district policies and practices and a Parent and Caregiver Guide, available in both English and Spanish. These resources can be found here.