Dana Stahl, a learning specialist and educational consultant, will address educational questions and concerns that parents may have regarding their children’s academic development and progress in school. Topics can center on such concerns as how to handle homework dilemmas or what questions to ask at a CSE meeting. Questions can range from “How best do parents advocate for their children?” to “How do parents interpret formal tests that have been administered?” to “Which schools and colleges are right for my child?”

Readers can write to Dana at dana@educationalalternativesllc.com. Dana will respond to one reader’s question a month. Dana hopes that her response will alleviate parents’ concerns and offer useful educational advice.

Q. Are independent schools required to provide accommodations and interventions specified in formal psychoeducational evaluations such as extended time or do they have a choice in what services they choose to provide?

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A. Private schools, unlike public institutions, do not need to follow the same guidelines and implementation of educational services as do their public counterparts because they are not legally required to do so. Independent schools are not under any obligation to implement 504s or Independent Education Plans (IEPs). The explanations of classified diagnoses and the subsequent accommodations and interventions stated in these reports are written for public schools only and for public access to educational institutions, but not for independent schools. Independent schools, however, are under an obligation to consider the stated recommendations presented in formal evaluations of their students. Whether your child is enrolled in public or private schools, parents need to understand the importance of establishing and maintaining a paper trail based on findings in formal evaluations in order to obtain for their child any accommodations and interventions.

All private schools that do not service children with identified special needs have a choice in determining which accommodations, if any, they are comfortable providing. Parents, for the most part, understand this when they enroll their children. School policies and procedures are listed on school websites. The reason that private schools are not required to implement accommodations recommended in formal evaluations is that the American Disability Act (ADA) does not apply to independent schools. In fact, with regard to independent schools, the ADA‘s position is that private schools are under an obligation to consider recommendations, but not to grant them.

The culture of each individual private school dictates the policies that these schools will follow rather than Federal and state guidelines dictating the implementation of services to children who meet eligibility. The most common accommodation provided to students in independent schools is extended time. Some schools offer untimed testing to all students, but some students need to jump through hoops in order to be afforded extended time on tests. A recent review of several independent day schools in New York City revealed that 15-35% of Upper School students receive extended time.

The crucial decision point for parents of children who have not received services to date, but now want to assert their voice in this area, is when it is time to petition the College Board and ACT for extended time.  It has become apparent at numerous private day schools that many parents whose children’s academic performance is solid seek documentation that supports a request to the College Board or ACT for extended time. They often seek these accommodations by having evaluations administered privately to their children and then applying directly to the College Board or ACT, bypassing their schools.

Some independent schools counsel parents to be careful in asking for accommodations because their children may not get into the college of their choice if perceived as learning disabled. Medical diagnoses of an Anxiety Disorder and/or an Adjustment Disorder are sometimes presented by parents as reasons for extended time when educational reasons are not sufficient. In these instances, the role and the responsibilities of independent schools vary. Some independent schools support these diagnoses and help to appeal decisions being made by the College Board and ACT. Other independent schools will facilitate an appeal, but often without additional evidence to support the case being presented.

In some instances, it is not helpful for students to receive extended time and sit 4 ½-6 hours to take a test that is typically administered in 3 hours. Parents need to understand the consequences of their requests and to understand the differences between the SAT and ACT with regard to testing accommodations.  For example, ACT will divide up their tests by sections; SAT will not. The College Board does not give testing over multiple days; ACT will. But, most importantly, parents and independent schools need to understand that the accommodation of extended time on standardized tests is in place to level the playing field for all students, not just to give certain individuals a greater chance for success.

If your children are enrolled in independent schools, become familiar with their policies and procedures regarding how the schools incorporate accommodations and interventions based upon formal evaluations. Participate in ongoing dialogues with the administration and faculty to ensure that the school meets your child’s individual needs while remaining true to the culture of their school. Clearly, a paper trail attesting to a specific area of concern is essential in obtaining extended time in school and on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT.

by Dana Stahl, M.Ed., Educational Alternatives LLC

Dana’s educational consultant practice focuses on assessment, advocacy and school placement for students with learning disabilities and social-emotional challenges. http://educationalalternativesllc.com