August 10th, 2021

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.

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