A new federal study criticizes the Justice Department for failing to enforce laws that provide disabled students with special accommodations for taking the SAT, bar exam and other high-stakes tests.
Testing companies say they don't have to provide accommodations if they think the requests are unreasonable or if they think the applicant hasn't proved they need the accommodation.
People with disabilities such as visual impairment, dyslexia or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder say they are entitled to extra time, special software or other accommodations that will best ensure that the test reflects their aptitude rather than their disability.
Testing companies say they don't have to provide accommodations if they think the requests are unreasonable, or if they think the applicant hasn't proved they need the accommodation.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that "almost all" of the nine testing companies it studied did not change any practices in response to regulations issued this spring designed to broaden the definition of disability and reduce burdensome documentation. It also found that the Justice Department's hasn't updated training manuals for the law since 1993, nor has it initiated compliance reviews to ensure testing companies meet the standards.
"The testing companies don't want to comply with the law … (and the) Department of Justice hasn't been enforcing the law," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., one of three House lawmakers to request the GAO study. They are urging Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct periodic compliance reviews of testing companies in addition to strengthening the Justice Department's review of citizen complaints.
The report is the latest wrinkle in a long-festering battle between disability-rights groups and testing companies. Private testing companies say they must guard against applicants who may seek an unfair advantage by requesting accommodations they don't need, and that the use of software increases the potential for security breaches.
"There are many interests at stake. Testing organizations have a legitimate interest in protecting the integrity of the test. … The kids who take the exam who aren't disabled have a right to compete with everyone else on a level playing field," said Washington lawyer Bob Burgoyne, who represents the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which has been the target of several recent lawsuits.
A Maryland judge last year ruled in favor of the bar examiners, but courts this year in California, the District of Columbia and Vermont have sided with visually impaired people who were denied the use of software they requested but allowed to have someone read test questions to them. Disability-rights advocates say inflexible company policies often force them to delay careers.
"Only because I sued was I able to take the test when I wanted to," said Deanna Jones, 45, of Middlesex, Vt., who passed a standardized test required to practice law after a judge ruled she could have access to computer software — the same software she has used throughout law school — to accommodate a visual impairment and learning disability.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
New federal study criticizes DOJ for failing to enforce laws that provide disabled students with SAT, bar exam accommodations
Posted by BA Haller at 8:48 PM