'There is always extended time in life'

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees extra testing time for students diagnosed with certain conditions, some students believe extended time to be an unfair advantage.

“There’s no extended time in life,” a senior said.

This senior is not the only one who has strong opinions about the subject. Other students agree with the notion discussed in Heidi Mitchell’s, “Faking ADHD Gets You Into Harvard,” an article published by the Daily Beast on Jan. 25, 2012, that suggests that while extended time isn’t inherently wrong, preparatory school students often abuse the system.

But school psychologist Dr. Sheila Siegel said that “the reality is that unless you work on an assembly line, there is always extended time in life. You can stay late at work or on the weekends. There’s very little place in life when there isn’t extended time.”

She also adds that, despite contrary belief, only students with a need for extended time would benefit from it. For kids with a disorder, the extended time “makes a huge difference and levels the playing field,” Siegel said. However, extended time for students who don’t need it would actually hurt them, because with too much time, students overthink, and then change their first answers, which are generally the correct ones, Siegel said.

Currently between eight and 10 percent of the student body receives extended time, Siegel said.

The process to receive extended time at Harvard-Westlake depends on the diagnosis. For those with a psychiatric diagnosis such as general anxiety disorders or those with physical disabilities including visual problems, specific cognitive tests are not needed. A letter from a doctor is sufficient. However, for other issues such as ADD, a doctor’s note is not enough and testing is generally required. Neuropsychologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology at USC, Dr. Carol McCleary said that these tests generally consist of an entire neuropsychological test battery which includes an IQ test as well as a test of achievement. These results are then analyzed by the test evaluator to “look for differences in performance on timed and untimed tests and look for a pattern.”

Having these tests administered and analyzed is “extremely expensive,” said Siegel. For those who cannot afford the tests, there are other options, though they take more time and are still costly.

After the tests have been analyzed, Siegel reads the report and then writes her own report. Teachers are then notified of the extended time.

“As long as there is a valid reason for why the student needs extended time, I grant it,” Siegel said.

Siegel has the final decision on permitting a student to receive extended time. While it is rare, she has on occasion disagreed with the tester when there was “just not enough evidence to support extended time.”

The steps a student must go through to receive extended time differ depending on the school. At Marlborough, for example, all students seeking extended time must have a full neuropsychological battery. The parent then sends the testing to the division director who speaks to the tester to confirm diagnosis and suggested accommodation(s). The division director then determines the accommodation a student will receive for testing at Marlborough, said Assistant Head of School Laura Hotchkiss.

The amount of time awarded to students also differs depending on the school. According to Assistant Principal Toni Staser, at Beverly Hills High School, the amount of extended time is qualified based on the impact of the disability and therefore both 50 percent extended time and 100 percent extended time can be awarded.

At Harvard-Westlake, on the other hand, students are only granted 50 percent extended time.

“The feeling of the administration has always been that if you need more than a time and a half, there’s no way you can finish your homework,” Siegel said.

Another problem is that of logistics.

“There’s just not enough hours in the day and enough staff,” Siegel said.

Once Harvard-Westlake grants a student’s request for extra time, he or she is not guaranteed extended time on all graded assignments. Teachers are not required by the administration to give extended time on graded assignments other than tests. Often in subjects such as English and history with frequent reading quizzes, students must finish these quizzes in the time allotted to their fellow classmates.

While there are some teachers who like to proctor their own exams, most teachers set up extended time assignments with Upper School Testing Coordinator Candris Madison to be administered in silent study.

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