Citation: Sokal, L. & Vermette, L. (2017). Double time? Examining extended testing time accommodations in postsecondary settings. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 30(2), 185-200.
Why Is This Study Important?
Extended test time is one of the most frequently requested and used accommodations on college campuses. How much time is enough? This is a long standing question for disability resource professionals charged with discussing and approving accommodations with students with disabilities. When extended time is needed, it is common practice to approve 50% more time or, less frequently, 100% more time than students without disabilities taking the same test. And while the authors review a number of articles discussing the fairness and effectiveness of this accommodation, they conclude that there is no empirical evidence that supports these specific levels of additional time.
Laura Sokal, from the University of Winnipeg, and Laurie Anne Vermette, from the University of Manitoba, conducted a study to explore this accommodation further. They were interested in whether students used their full extended time during tests. They were also curious whether the amount of extended time used varied in lower level compared to higher level courses.
Research Methods in a Nutshell
The authors worked with the disability resource offices on two campuses. One campus had a population of approximately 10,000 students and served undergraduate students. The other campus was larger, with roughly 30,000 students and provided undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. The researchers did a post hoc analysis of the data collected about student eligibility and use of extended time on tests over a two-year period. They reviewed data from a total of 8,857 exams. The data they reviewed included (1) year in the program to which the test applied; (2) the standard exam time provided to all students; (3) the amount of extended time the test taker was eligible to receive; and (4) the actual time used on the test. From these data they also calculated some additional factors in order to allow comparisons across the two universities.
Some Key Findings
Many students do not use the full extended time they are eligible to receive. Looking at descriptive statistics across the two university settings, the authors found some interesting patterns. Consider these outcomes:
- For 35% of the tests, the test taker didn’t use any extended time.
- In 55% of the tests, the test taker completed the test within 25% more time than the standard test time provided all students.
- Eighty-five percent (85%) of the tests were completed within the time frame of 50% more time than the standard test time allowed to all students. Yet 42% of students at the smaller university and 30% at the larger university had been approved for 100% more time.
Students used more extended test time in higher level courses. The researchers compared test completion times for exams in different course levels across five broad categories (first year courses, second year courses, third year courses, fourth year courses, and fifth-ninth year courses that included the graduate and professional course work at the larger university). They found that average time for test completion was higher in second year level courses than in first year; and higher test completion times in third year level courses than in second year courses. There were no differences between test completion time in third year and any of the higher level courses.
Comparisons across the two university settings. There were no significant differences between the two university settings on the average standard test time provided to all students. Students at the smaller university were approved for slightly more extended time as an accommodation on average than students at the larger university. When the researchers compared the amount of time actually used on tests, however, they found students in both settings use similar amounts of time.
The datasets provided to the researchers had been cleaned of information about individual student disabilities or other demographic details. While appropriate for preserving student privacy, the authors noted that this limited some aspects of their analysis and possible recommendations.
So if most students are actually completing their tests with 25% additional time or less, what does this mean for appropriate recommendations for extended time from the disability resource professional? The authors provide a helpful discussion of this issue. Abruptly reducing amounts of approved extended time is not recommended. Remember that accommodations should be the result of a conversation with the student about barriers to testing. For some students extended test time is provided to address slower speeds of information processing or reading fluency for example; for others extended time is provided in order to alleviate anxiety and worry about having sufficient time to demonstrate knowledge. As always, the mantra of our field is that accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis.
The authors pose an important question however. How do we honor individual differences and at the same time foster student growth? As part of supporting student self-determination consider giving students information about their own trends in using extended test time. Is the current level of extended time working? Is it more than needed? Is the student interested in enhancing her test-taking strategies or stress reduction approaches to support her performance in a test setting? These are conversations that can support students in being active agents in their college learning and education.
Want to Know More?
Read the full report of findings at: https://www.ahead.org/publications/jped/vol_30
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