Every junior and senior feels the stress of waking up early on a Saturday morning and driving to a testing center 20 minutes away, preparing themselves to sit down for a standardized test that could determine their future. After a grueling three to four hours, they walk out of the testing center, lamenting the last 10 questions of the math and science sections that they didn’t have time to finish. But the most challenging part of standardized testing, especially the ACT, is the timing. Those tests are meant to challenge students, forcing them to make quick decisions and hone skills that they’ve developed over their high school careers. But, some students get the opportunity to add extra time to their testing or take the tests over multiple days in a comfortable environment.
I think this is wrong. I want to emphasize that I am not saying that extended time shouldn’t exist — simply, students that use extended time on standardized tests should tell colleges when they submit their scores that they used extended time. This would strengthen the scores of students without extended time, without taking away the ability to use extended time for students with learning differences.
For the SAT, extra time is not as much of an advantage as many people think. The SAT is designed so that the student either knows the answer or doesn’t. It does not test the speed of reading, analysis and calculation like the ACT does. Therefore, extended time on the ACT is a significant advantage compared to extended time on the SAT. In order to even the playing field, students with extended time should disclose to the colleges that they apply to that they used extra time on their standardized test.
With the use of extended time, the most intentionally challenging part of the tests, the timing, is thrown away— especially for the ACT. The ACT tests students on how quickly they can read and analyze data, determine answers and fill them out on a scantron sheet. In the reading and science sections, students are allotted 35 minutes for 40 questions. It’s meant to be challenging; that’s the whole point of standardized testing. However, the minimum amount of extra time awarded to students taking the ACT that request it is 50 percent, meaning they get 55 minutes for the reading and science sections as opposed to the usual 35 minutes, 70 minutes for English instead of the standard 45 and 90 minutes for math rather than the normal 60 minutes. These additions provide students with substantially more time than their counterparts with regular time, making the test less challenging.
By taking away the same amount of time for all test-takers, the “standardized” part of standardized testing is taken away. Does this not take away from the whole point of these tests?
Oftentimes, students don’t need the full 50 percent of extended time, but they still get all 50 percent. This provides students with an unfair advantage compared to their counterparts without extended time. According to Summit Prep, because of the extended time accommodations, students with extended time tend to score higher than their counterparts, especially for students that are allowed to take their tests over multiple days. In a study done by the National Center of Educational Outcomes, extended time can raise test scores for students that have a grasp of the material, whether or not they have a learning disability.
One of the options for extended time testing offered to ESD students for the ACT is to take the ACT over the course of two weekends, one section per day. The test starts at 9:00 a.m. and is taken in ESD classrooms with an ESD-provided proctor. However, regular testing for the ACT is at testing sites across the metroplex, not including ESD, with the test site shutting their doors at 8:00 a.m.. Despite the glaring differences in testing conditions, students with extended time are also able to prepare in different ways. On the night before the test, these students can prepare for their tests one section at a time instead of for all four sections, like their counterparts without extended time. So, students are given an advantage with the addition of time that they might not necessarily need, as well as time to focus on one section at a time. Thus, students should have to disclose to colleges that they used extended time on standardized tests, including the ACT and SAT.
Not to mention, attaining extended time can cost large sums of money. In order to gain extended time in school, students must obtain a 504 Plan — these plans are a federal disability designation that allow students to gain extra time. The plan itself is free, but getting a diagnosis for these plans is what costs. According to the New York Times, 5.8 percent of students in the top 1 percent of wealth have a 504 Plan. In contrast, the same study found that in the bottom 1 percent of wealth, only 1.5 percent of students have a 504 Plan. At ESD, 38 percent of Upper School students have a 504 Plan— the highest being in the Class of 2024, with 46 percent of juniors using a 504 Plan. Thus, wealth plays a big factor in gaining a 504 Plan and, in effect, extended time on standardized tests. So, if tests are supposed to be standardized for the whole nation, then how does an obvious wealth disparity make a test standardized?
Thus, in order to even out the disparities of testing, students with extended time should disclose to colleges that they used extended time on their standardized tests. This way, they still have the option to use extended time, but for students without it, their scores are evaluated appropriately by colleges. In this scenario, tests become more standard, without taking away from accommodations that students may need.