Test Accommodations FAQ
These FAQs are designed to help you understand and provide test accommodations to students with disabilities enrolled in your courses. Please feel free to contact us with your feedback, questions, or concerns at email@example.com.
You may download a condensed version of the Faculty FAQ on Test Accommodations for Students with Disabilities in pdf format.
- What is "Alternative Testing"?
- Why might it be fair for a student to take an exam with accommodations?
- How do students receive a recommendation for a test accommodation?
- Who provides AT accommodations?
- May I accommodate a student myself or must I use the DRC?
- How do students make testing accommodation requests?
- How do faculty review and approve student requests for testing accommodations?
- May I just call the DRC and schedule an exam for a student?
- When and where are accommodations provided?
- How can I get my exam to the DRC?
- When do exams need to be at the DRC?
- How do I make changes to an exam after I have approved it?
- Does the DRC thoroughly scrutinize the exam for errors or oddities prior to administering the exam?
- What happens when a student makes a late request for accommodated testing?
- I have a non-disabled student who needs to make-up an exam; can the DRC do this for me?
- What happens when a student says something is allowed that isn’t indicated on the approved request form? (i.e., calculator, notes, open book, ruler)
- Will students take the exam as the same time as the class?
- What happens if a student wants to change the date of an approved exam?
- Can faculty make changes to a student’s request prior to approving it?
- Student has “Alone” as an accommodation. Why? And what does “Alone” mean?
- How are the accommodations determined, particularly additional time such as time-and-a-half and double-time?
- How can I accommodate students on “pop quizzes”?
- What happens if the DRC suspects a student is cheating?
- What happens when a student shows up late to take an exam?
- May I choose not to provide testing accommodations to a student?
- How do I know my exam will be securely handled and administered equitably?
- Are exams individually proctored?
- Who proctors exams at the DRC?
- Where can faculty direct questions about alternative testing?
- Why is extended time an appropriate accommodation for students with learning disabilities (LD)?
- Are instructors expected to be available for questions when students are taking their exams with the DRC?
- I use PolyLearn for quizzes and exams. How can I accommodate students needing additional time?
- May a faculty member require students to stay until the end of their scheduled testing time?
Alternative testing (AT) is a nationally recognized, appropriate reasonable accommodation for students with certain disabilities. Testing accommodations should not fundamentally alter the intent of the exam or lower the program standards of the university. Test accommodations may include additional test time, alternative test formats (e.g., large print, audio or Braille), or the use of adaptive equipment (word processors, electronic spelling checkers, text enlargers). Some students experience episodic impairments (e.g., epilepsy, depression, migraines, multiple sclerosis) which may need to be considered in determining exam accommodations.
Testing accommodations are provided to ensure examinations do not measure a student's disability, but rather create an environment allowing students to appropriately demonstrate their mastery of the material. Disabilities that interfere with reading print, fine or gross motor skills, processing speed, managing severe anxiety, or sitting for long periods of time may be appropriately accommodated by a test accommodation. For most students, the disability affects the pace at which they can complete work relative to other students. Disabilities may include learning disabilities, visual impairments, motor disabilities, head injuries, attentional or psychological disabilities. For some, the accommodation itself requires more time to use adaptive equipment (e.g., a text enlarger, an audio exam, a scribe or adaptive keyboard). Providing a test accommodation ensures that exam grades most fairly represent the student's understanding of the course material with minimal interference from his/her disability.
Students choosing to work with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) provide documentation from a professional specialist (e.g., physician, clinical psychologist) that is reviewed by DRC staff. If the documentation meets guidelines establishing a disability, a DRC Access Specialist develops recommendations for reasonable accommodations and records them on a student's VISA (Verified Instructional Services and Accommodation) plan. Students should provide faculty with a copy of their VISA. Faculty can also request confirmation of the accommodations by contacting the DRC. Students can also choose to work directly with faculty and independently negotiate their accommodations. Faculty members have the right to work with students directly, or refer students to DRC. DRC staff is also available to consult with faculty regarding the requested accommodations.
Like regularly administered exams, many AT accommodations are provided by the faculty or teaching assistant. Providing test accommodations within the department offers students with disabilities comparable access to instructors during tests, ensures greater test security, and facilitates last minute changes or clarifications to exam questions. It also eliminates grading delays and minimizes confusion in exam delivery and return. Exams requiring more complex accommodations (e.g., a Brailled exam, an adaptive computer or workstation, a scribe, etc.) can be provided by the DRC. Exams taken at the DRC require students and faculty to work together to complete the request forms in a timely manner and coordinate exam delivery to and from the exam location. Throughout the AT process, the student's right to confidentiality shall be maintained (see more information about confidentiality with regard to DRC documentation and the accommodation process).
Faculty may accommodate students directly. Generally, the DRC administers exams because faculty don’t have the time or resources. However, since the most common accommodations are extended time and an environment somewhat free from frequent distractions, faculty often make arrangements themselves. Advantages of accommodating students directly are that the instructor maintains control over the exam and students have direct access to the instructor during the exam. As long as a student receives the appropriate accommodations, faculty are free to arrange for accommodations. DRC staff is available to consult with faculty regarding the requested accommodations.
Students choosing to work with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) provide documentation from a professional specialist (e.g., physician, clinical psychologist) that is reviewed by DRC staff. If the documentation meets guidelines establishing a disability, a DRC Access Specialist develops recommendations for reasonable accommodations and records them on a student's VISA (Verified Instructional Services and Accommodation) plan. Students should provide faculty with a copy of their VISA. Faculty can also request confirmation of the accommodations by contacting the DRC. Students can also choose to work directly with faculty and independently negotiate their accommodations. Faculty members have the right to work with students directly, or refer students to DRC.
Approved students make requests to faculty via the Cal Poly portal a minimum of seven days prior to the exam.
Instructors receive an email alerting them to the request. The email directs instructors to their “mycalpoly.edu” portal. Next, the instructor locates the “Notifications Portlet” on the main page and checks for any “Student Exam Requests.” Here the instructor can review and approve (or modify/deny).
A complete step-by-step description of the process is available. Faculty not wanting to use the on-line testing process may choose to directly accommodate students themselves.
The secure online request form is the method for scheduling accommodated exams. Spontaneous, unstructured and informal requests can result in miscommunication, lack of details and mishandled exams. In order to ensure the security and integrity of every exam, we need a process allowing us to track and monitor every request. We strive for elasticity and convenience but not at the expense of ineffectiveness and confusion.
Generally, exams overlap the time of the regularly scheduled class exams. Occasionally, due to schedule conflicts or back-to-back classes, students may take exams before or after the regularly scheduled class times. Test sites in the department may include adjacent classrooms, faculty offices, libraries or conference rooms. Exams administered through the DRC are generally proctored in our offices by undergraduate student assistants under the supervision of a professional DRC staff member. During busy exam periods, alternate sites may also be used. All exams and related correspondence should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Options include: faculty drop off to the DRC office, DRC pick-up from the department, or email. Please note that email is a common choice, but bear in mind that the design and formatting options of the document can be altered in the transmission and printing process.
No later than 2 PM the day prior to the exam. Please note:
- The DRC will attempt to administer exams arriving after 2 PM the day before; however, in order to ensure safe, secure and effective handling of exams, faculty need to provide sufficient advance delivery so the DRC can successfully record receipt of exam, and, if needed, convert exam to an alternative format (i.e., Word document for use in Zoomtext, Kurzweil software apps, audio, large print), print the exam, match exam with proctor envelope, and get the exam to proctor and location.
- Over 800 faculty each year have students with disabilities using accommodated testing in their courses. Each test is unique; every faculty member expects his/her test to be handled with care and attention and the terms of the exam agreement to be meticulously followed. Receiving exams at the last minute significantly increases the potential for mistakes to be made.
The automated workflow system cannot accommodate changes after a request has been approved. Please call the Testing Coordinator at 756-6087 to discuss options.
13. Does the DRC thoroughly scrutinize the exam for errors or oddities prior to administering the exam?
The DRC does not scrutinize exams after they arrive; we administer exams in the form in which they arrive. Please ensure the exam is formatted properly and that all necessary materials are included.
- Students are responsible for providing adequate notice to faculty and/or the DRC in order to receive test accommodations. The DRC instructs students to discuss their accommodation needs with faculty within the first three weeks of the quarter. (Sometimes a student acquires a disability during the quarter so this is not always possible). In order to identify space and schedule proctors, the DRC requires that accommodation requests be submitted via the online request form no less than seven full days prior to an exam (excluding holidays). For both faculty and the DRC, insufficient time to: a) consult with the student or student's Access Specialist, b) identify available space and proctors and/or, c) adapt the exam (e.g., provide a Braille or audio copy) may justify an inability to accommodate an exam when a request is submitted late. The student may need to take the exam without accommodations if the faculty member chooses not to assume responsibility for providing accommodations or not to postpone the exam. The student and faculty member should meet to discuss arrangements for the remaining exams in the quarter.
- On occasion, there are legitimate reasons why requests may be submitted late. However, when students merely neglect to make the request within the established time frame, they have essentially abrogated their right. At this point, facultyare within their rights to expect the student to take the exam without accommodations with the class as scheduled. Faculty may, if they choose, accommodate the student themselves or have the student re-submit a request to the DRC with no less than seven full days notice prior to an exam (excluding holidays), but this is up to each individual faculty member.
- Institutional leaders expect that services for students with disabilities be provided to students demonstrating a verifiable disability and therefore having a right to an accommodation.
- Our services and accommodations are based upon functional limitations for individuals with disabilities; while many of the services we provide can benefit non-disabled students, faculty and staff, only those with a “right to accommodation” may receive services.
- The process of managing exam administration requires careful attention to detail: handling of the exam (pick-up/delivery), exam specifications (time, tools such as notes, books, calculators, etc.) and our process for students with disabilities is designed to maintain integrity and security of exams. Only verified students can make requests, details are agreed to ahead of time via an on-line exam request/approval system; details concerning when, where, and how the exam is transported from one place to another are all accounted for through the secure web-based system.
- Campus wide needs, such as a method of providing make up exams or proctoring exams for faculty who are not available, needs to be addressed at the campus level and is not the domain of the student disability services program.
16. What happens when a student says something is allowed that isn’t indicated on the approved request form? (i.e., calculator, notes, open book, ruler)
- We will immediately attempt to get in touch with the instructor by calling the contact number given on the request form. For this reason, it is important to leave a number where you can be contacted during an exam.
- If we are unable to get in touch with the instructor, the exam supervisor will evaluate the situation and use his or her best judgment. Often, students will be permitted to use whatever they have indicated is permitted and an incident report detailing the situation will be written and given to the instructor.
It depends. Students indicate the time they are requesting to take the exam on the On-Line Request Form. Faculty modify, deny or approve requests. If an instructor disagrees with the time requested by the student, we strongly encourage direct communication with the student before a decision is made to modify the request. Faculty can also add comments into the On-Line Request Form. Sometimes students cannot take exams as the same time as the class due to a conflict between their other scheduled classes and the accommodation of extended time for your exam.
The first step is for the student to directly discuss the date change with the instructor. If there is agreement and sufficient time to meet the request deadlines, the student can cancel the original request and submit a new one.
If there is insufficient time to meet the deadlines, the student and instructor should discuss whether the instructor can accommodate the student. The majority of accommodated exams involve additional time and an environment with minimal distractions, both of which might be easily arranged. Another option is for the student to make a new request with sufficient advance notice that allows the DRC adequate time to process the request.
Yes. The On-Line Request Form is a tool that is used to facilitate the process, and the student’s request is the starting point. Constant, clear communication is key to successful implementation. Talking with the student prior to making changes or informing the student that changes have been made help alleviate surprises. However, the process is designed to allow flexibility, communication and change. Additionally, adding comments in the “Comment Section” is an effective way to help ensure clear communication occurs.
If an instructor wants to alter accommodations recommended by the DRC, a conversation with the student’s Access Specialist should precede modifications to accommodations.
A significant percentage of students with exam accommodations have processing impairments (deficits). This functional limitation includes auditory, visual and attention difficulties. A modification that assists with minimizing the limitation’s impact is reducing or eliminating visual and/or auditory noise.
In many cases, testing alone occurs because the student with a disability is disruptive to other test takers. One common example is a student who articulates out loud when reading in order to better comprehend the material. Speaking aloud would not be possible in a typical classroom environment.
Testing alone never means a student is unsupervised. Whether by video surveillance, a two way mirror, or an individual proctor, all students are observed while taking accommodated exams. Therefore, “alone” means not taking an exam with other students, not alone without supervision.
21. How are accommodations determined, particularly additional time such as time-and-a-half and double-time?
- For over thirty years students with processing deficits, including vision as well as neuropsychological conditions such as learning disabilities, have typically received 50% additional time for course exams and for standardized tests including the ACT, SAT, GRE, MCAT and LSAT. There is, however, little scientific research supporting whether this is too much or inadequate. It appears to be a rule of thumb.
- Unlike certain standardized tests that have undergone a norming process with respect to standard completion time, most professors write their tests by intuition and personal experience. Figuring how much longer a student should rightfully get to finish a test, given his or her particular inhibition, is a similarly inexact exercise. When faculty are asked why their exams are as long as they are, many respond with, “In my experience, most students can complete the exams in the time given.” Similarly, disability personnel’s experience is that most students with disabilities requiring additional time can complete typical course exams in about 50% more time. DRC records show that about 15% of students receiving additional time are recommended for 100% more time while about 85% receive 50%.
- Decisions are made based upon the clinical documentation submitted by the student, the student’s expressed needs and prior history, and the Access Specialist’s professional judgment.
Instructors may find it challenging to provide testing accommodations recommended for students with disabilities for pop quizzes due to scheduling conflicts, the nature of the testing accommodations needed by the student (i.e., assistive technology, extended time, distraction-reduced setting, etc.), or the need for prior arrangements if the student would typically be taking the quiz at the DRC.
Legal Implications: Students have a right to reasonable accommodations and faculty have a right to evaluate learning. Reasonable accommodations are not required if they fundamentally alter the nature of the activity in question. The goal of accommodating a "pop quiz" is to ensure reasonable accommodation and maintain the integrity of the evaluation process, such that the accommodation does not fundamentally alter the evaluation process.
Possible strategies to accommodate pop quizzes:
Allow student to take quiz with class; stop when classmates stop, and grade only on portion completed
Accommodation of 1.5x additional time = 66%
Accommodation of 2.0x additional time = 50%;
- Base course grade on an average of other tests/assignments and don’t count pop quizzes;
- Offer a substitute assignment;
- Evaluate the purpose of “pop quizzes” and possibly eliminate them; set regular date for quizzes so student and instructor can plan for accommodation needs, including testing at DRC due to need for assistive technology, document conversion, use of scribe or audio format of quiz, etc.;
- Use PolyLearn for quizzes; assign quizzes to be taken at specific times and for specific length of time, (keeping in mind that some students with disabilities have extended time on exams as an accommodation);
- Allow student to take quiz with class and stay to complete quiz after class meeting is over (instructor will need to verify with student ahead of time, during VISA discussion, that student is available after class session and wouldn’t miss another class / commitment by staying);
- Invite student to meeting and have student take quiz during that meeting (this will only be successful once as student will know why he or she is being invited to future meetings).
The proctor will immediately alert a full-time professional DRC staff member who will assess the situation. If there is reasonable cause to suspect that cheating has occurred, the DRC staff member will stop the test administration, take the exam and any testing materials being used, write an Incident Report (after interviewing the student and proctor), and attempt to locate both the DRC director and the student’s professor. If the professor cannot be located, the exam materials and Incident Report will be immediately returned to the location indicated on the approved request form. The student is instructed to follow-up with the professor immediately.
(Note: while the DRC uses video surveillance to monitor exams, we do not make a recording; this would be disparate treatment of a person with a disability, since non-disabled test-takers are not videotaped).
Unless otherwise instructed, the DRC will allow students to begin the exam up until the end time indicated on the approved request form. Faculty requiring students to begin the exam at a specified time need to indicate that in the comment section of the request form.
The default decision to allow students to begin exams after arriving late is due to the fact that each faculty member has his/her own perspective about whether to allow students to take exams if they arrive late. Generally, faculty report they allow students to take exams but they must stop at the specified end time. Since we do not know every faculty members’ policy on students’ taking exams when arriving late, we depend upon specific instructions.
All CSU campus faculty and staff share the responsibility for maintaining a campus environment conducive to the fulfillment of the CSU’s teaching and public service mission. In attempting to make appropriate academic adjustments, faculty members, the staff who work in services to students with disabilities, and students with disabilities should collaborate to develop reasonable accommodations that meet the individual educational needs of qualified students while not altering the fundamental nature of the service, program, or activity and without creating undue financial or administrative burdens. During this interactive process, a student with a disability should be given the opportunity to express a preference among possible accommodations and the stated preference should be considered in the process. However, the campus shall make the final decision among several viable options for reasonable accommodation.
Students denied a requested accommodation may appeal the decision through the Student Policy and Procedures for Resolving University 504/ADA Accommodation Disputes. According to CSU policy, services authorized by the director of the program for students with disabilities must continue during the grievance process.
Faculty are not required to take any action that would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service, program, or activity, or that would result in undue financial or administrative burdens. For more information, please see:
The DRC recognizes the importance and sensitivity of administering exams for faculty. We make every effort to ensure the security and integrity of each exam. Student requests and faculty approvals occur via the secure on-line Cal Poly portal. Every request is numbered and authenticated. Students must present Student ID’s each time they take an exam. No phones or backpacks are allowed with the student. The exam rooms have closed circuit video surveillance. Every exam is proctored.
Exams that are emailed or delivered to the DRC by professors are locked in a filing cabinet. Once acquired, exams are recorded as received, placed in an envelope for the proctor, and carefully monitored up until and throughout the exam administration. Upon completion, exams are sealed, stamped and delivered to the designated return location as soon as possible.
Exams we are not able to deliver due to department office hours or the office being closed are returned to the DRC and locked in a filing cabinet until they can be delivered or picked up by the professor. Emailed exams are deleted a week after they have been administered.
Exams taken on a computer are monitored by computer management software that can restrict access, monitor use and remotely control the student’s computer.
Please note, as explained in the FAQ “Who proctors exams at the DRC?” undergraduate Cal Poly students working as student assistant/proctors are involved in the process of acquiring, proctoring and returning exams. Supervision and precautions are taken to limit access and closely monitor every step of the process to ensure exam security. Faculty who are concerned about the handling of exams can deliver exams directly to the DRC (rather than email or use our pick-up/delivery service) or faculty can opt to directly administer the exam to students (see: Who provides AT accommodations? )
No. The DRC has access to four testing rooms, all with video surveillance. One proctor can visually observe two testing rooms directly and monitor all four rooms via video. Only during very busy times are all four rooms occupied. The majority of time, the proctor has direct sight observation of test-takers. If all four rooms are being used, then students in the additional two rooms are either assigned a live proctor or observed by a proctor via video surveillance.
The majority of exams are proctored by undergraduate Cal Poly students working as student assistant/proctors. All proctors work under the supervision of a full time professional staff member. Student proctors do not administer exams for courses within their major or general education courses in which they are enrolled.
- STUDENT: Faculty members are encouraged to first ask their questions of the student. Students receive orientation at the DRC on the alternative testing service and may be able to answer questions or concerns.
- DRC: Questions about the impact of the disability or the appropriateness of a requested accommodation can be directed to the DRC Access Specialist identified on the VISA at 756-1395.
- CLASSROOM SCHEDULING: Questions regarding locating space in the department for proctoring an exam can be directed to the major department office or to the university scheduler.
- DRC WEBSITE: The DRC website provides information regarding DRC issues, confidentiality, campus policies and procedures and relevant DRC links.
“Students with some types of LD have difficulty completing tests within time limits. Some test formats may pose extra challenges. For example, essay questions may be more difficult to organize and respond to in a limited amount of time than multiple choice or short answer questions. Students with LD may also be easily distracted in large group test situations. Students may have difficulty reading text or completing math problems. Students with writing disabilities may also have difficulty writing responses. Typical test-taking accommodations for students with LD include: extended time on tests, alternative locations, tests in alternative formats, or use of computers” (Burgstahler, 2010; Washington DO-IT Center, 2010).
“Deficits in speeded performance are one of the most common ways in which LD can impact an individual. Several studies have shown that students with LD characteristically take longer than do individuals without LD to complete a variety of timed tasks (e.g., reading passages, math calculations) (Bell & Perfetti, 1994; Deuel, 1992, 1995; Geary & Brown, 1990; Hayes, Hynd, & Wisenbaker, 1986; Rubin & Johnson, 2002; Wolff, Michel, Ovrut, & Drake, 1990; Wolf, 1991), and more specifically timed tests (Alster, 1997; Jarvis, 1996; Ofiesh, 2000; Runyan, 1991; Weaver, 2000)” (Ofiesh, Hughes, & Scott, 2004).
“These and other research studies form the basis for the accommodation of extended test time. However, to determine if speeded performance is an area of concern for each individual with LD who requests the accommodation, diagnostic data must be evaluated in terms of the academic and cognitive tests that measure characteristics related to how quickly one can demonstrate what is known” (Ofiesh, Hughes, & Scott, 2004).
31. Are instructors expected to be available for questions when students are taking their exams with the DRC?
The challenge of accommodating students on course exams occurring outside of the classroom or academic department are situations where either the instructor is providing information to students during the exam or the student with a disability taking an exam at the DRC has a question.
The conundrum that has no easy solution is when students feel they were disadvantaged because they either did not receive the same information students taking the exam in the class received or they were unable to get clarification on a test item. Reconciling those situations is problematic. Being able to contact instructors when students are taking exams administered by the DRC, in order to ask questions or get clarifications, helps ensure students with disabilities are not treated disparately in the examination process.
I can’t say that instructors are required to be available when one of their students is testing at the DRC. However, I can say that students do have the right to equal treatment and an equal experience. Students do not forfeit their right to equal opportunity by having a disability-related accommodation. Thus, the conundrum: how can we create an environment that accurately reflects the classroom experience when students are taking exams at a remote location? One method is to establish a process and communication system that allows for information to be shared in real-time.
Ideally, faculty provide contact information or a method that allows for communication to occur during the accommodated exam. We ask that faculty make a good faith effort to be available and/or provide contact information so that we can attempt to reach them if needed. As previously described, reconciling a situation where students in the classroom benefit from information shared during the exam, or a student with a disability is unable to ask a reasonable question that would be answered if he or she was in class, is problematic for instructors.
Instructors can give DRC rights to students so that when the student takes a quiz or exam, they will not be held to the same restrictions as others. To learn how, go to Poly Learn Support.
Occasionally an instructor will ask that a student taking an exam under DRC supervision stay until the scheduled ending of the exam time. For example, an instructor may want a student taking a final to stay until 7 pm when their final is scheduled from 2:30 to 7 pm. The DRC may hold a student until the scheduled end time, depending upon the reasons and circumstances. Faculty may want students to stay under DRC supervision until the class begins the exam so that the student does not have the opportunity to contact other students and share test information before they begin the exam.
However, once the class starts the exam, there may not be an appropriate reason to hold students at the DRC. If students taking the exam in the class with the professor are required to stay until the end of the scheduled testing period, then it would be appropriate to also hold students with disabilities testing at the DRC until the end of their scheduled examination time. If students taking the exam in the class with the professor are NOT required to stay until the end of the scheduled testing period, then it would be inappropriate to also hold students with disabilities testing at the DRC until the end of their scheduled examination time.