On Receiving Accommodations for ACT and SAT—A Personal Story

Oct 08, 2018 | Posted by Jennifer


As a homeschooling parent with a special needs student, I was nervous for high school to begin. I wanted my daughter to be able to go to college if she wanted, and I knew that performing well on the ACT or SAT would help her be able to get into her college of choice and potentially reward her with a scholarship as well. I desperately wanted my daughter to have the best chance to be accepted, but I knew that in order to have that, she would need to receive accommodations for those exams.

In schools, a student who needs accommodations may have either an IEP or 504 plan. These are legal documents that provide proof that the testing organizations want to see in order for them to extend accommodations. As a girl who had been homeschooled all her life, my daughter had neither. Therefore, I decided when she was young to do all I could to make certain she could receive the accommodations she might need when the time came. This decision took us both on quite a journey. I would like to share a few suggestions with you now that arise from our experience in the hopes that it will help you if you have a special learner in your family who plans to take these exams. With that in mind, here are my recommendations.

  1. Begin early. I began the process when my daughter was just six years old by taking her to be evaluated by an educational neuropsychologist. I did this because I wanted to establish a history for my daughter. I had heard that the testing agencies were requiring not just one test done recently; rather, they wanted to see a history to illustrate need. Since that time, I understand that the process has become somewhat easier, but I am still glad I did it, for in addition to providing the groundwork, the report revealed some additional areas of weakness that I wasn’t aware of. This gave me more direction to help address my daughter’s challenges in our homeschool. Also, I did end up using this test to establish her need, which I describe further down in this post.

  2. Repeat testing in early high school. Both ACT and SAT have requirements about how recent the testing period may be. Last I checked, SAT required that the testing be completed within the last five years, while ACT required testing to be completed within the last three years. But once testing is done and accommodations are approved, they never expire. I had my daughter tested again fairly early into her ninth grade year, which covers her throughout her high school years.

  3. Contact the testing agency early to begin the review process. The general recommendation is to submit your paperwork at least seven weeks early. I would encourage you to submit even earlier. I first applied to CollegeBoard so that my daughter could sit for the SAT exam. They got right back to me with the accommodations I had requested for her with plenty of time to spare. All that I sent them was the latest neuropsychologist report. ACT, however, was a different story. When I submitted the same report as I did for CollegeBoard to ACT, they initially denied her accommodations. The denial letter included some suggestions of documentation that I could provide if I wanted to re-apply. I did, but that required more time. Thankfully I had started with more than two months’ cushion before the test date, so we had the margin we needed.

  4. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. ACT requested additional documentation, which could include teacher concerns; past report cards or grade transcripts; prior psychoeducational evaluations; evidence of tutoring; standardized test scores; and/or parent/teacher contacts. I immediately got to work and contacted my daughter’s prior co-op instructors, the teacher who did her end-of-year testing, and the college where my daughter was dual-enrolled. All three were happy to respond with letters validating my daughter’s need for accommodations. Included in the packet of information I sent was also the evaluation from when she was six and a letter that I wrote detailing her educational history in our homeschool.

I am happy to say that once ACT received the additional paperwork, they were satisfied of my daughter’s need and offered her even better accommodations than what she had received through CollegeBoard. But our challenges weren’t quite over. Both of the testing agencies required me to find and locate an appropriate agency to complete the testing. This required even more time. I was able to get the accommodations my daughter needed through SAT by contacting our local high school and applying to them for help. ACT proved again to be more challenging, but I was able to eventually get the testing set up through the state college that my daughter attends as a dual-enrolled student. All told, I would say I needed about two additional weeks to get everything secure.

This past year, my daughter was successfully able take both the SAT and ACT, and she performed well on each exam because she received the accommodations she needed. Because her testing conditions were better for the ACT, she is planning on re-taking it early in 2019. I am confident she will do well on it!

The Classic Learning Test (CLT) is another exam that is rising in popularity, and for good reason. It’s an attractive alternative to the ACT and SAT in that students use modern technology such as laptops or tablets to analyze classic passages across a broad range of cultures and disciplines. And it does it all in just two hours with the results provided the same day. When my daughter took her exams, the CLT wasn’t as broadly accepted as it is now. Today there are more than one hundred colleges that welcome the CLT, and the number is growing. I suspect receiving accommodations for it won’t be nearly as challenging as for the SAT and ACT. Information about accommodations can be found on the website. CLT recommends that you begin the process no later than eight weeks in advance.

You may wonder if our journey through testing is done. Unfortunately, no. My daughter will need to repeat her testing soon so that she will be eligible for accommodations when she goes to college. Because she tested using a pediatric battery, she will need to test one more time, this time with a battery of tests designed specifically for adults. I anticipate doing these either later in the spring of her junior year or in the fall of her senior year.

You may also be thinking to yourself that colleges and universities might be prejudiced against her for needing accommodations. The fact is, they will not know unless she self-identifies. Neither ACT nor SAT indicate on their test report that a student obtained accommodations, so rest assured.

I’ve shared this story with you with the permission of my daughter. We both hope that by sharing our journey with you, you will feel empowered and able to face those high school years with your special learner. Having a learning disability is not a mark of low intelligence. Our students who have them simply need to be given a chance to show what they know, and they will excel.


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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