Extended Time on Tests

Back when I was in high school (and no, not leaning on my cane and wagging my finger) we did not have cell phones. We did the “call collect and hang up” thing. And, when we got our driver’s licenses, most of us got jalopies as cars. They were old, rusty, and honestly, sometimes unreliable. So my friends and I also often received AAA memberships in our Christmas stockings.

Because that’s what we did–when our cars broke down or got a flat tire, we found a pay phone and called AAA. Now, you might be thinking, “Well that’s fantastic. But what the f*ck does it have to do with extended test taking time?” So, hang in there, I do have a point, I promise.

extended time on test

Getting extended time on a test is one of the most common IEP or 504 accommodations that I see. Nearly every IEP that I review has it on there. That and retaking a test if the grade is below a certain threshold.

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And yet, this seemingly simple accommodation causes quite a few problems and creates many questions for parents. How long is “extra time on tests?” Can you use this extra time accommodation on the SAT or ACT? What about state standardized tests?

So, let’s dig into this accommodation and troubleshoot it.

The Biggest Flaw with Extra Test Taking Time

Let’s go back to me and my 1970 Volkswagen Squareback. I paid $75 for it and it had a top speed of about 40-45 miles per hour. Not kidding about that. Going up steep hills, I’d have 30 cars backed up behind me, desperately wishing to pass me.

1970 vw wagon
Yep, this was it. A 2-door squareback, except mine had tinted windows in the back. And a lot more rust.

But it also had a really crappy suspension. So I got flat tires often. And, it was just old and not that reliable. I certainly made good use of my AAA membership.

But, because of my AAA membership, to this day I still do not know how to change a flat tire. So here’s my point.

It does not matter how much time you give me. One hour, three hours, three days. It will not make a lick of difference. With the skill set that I have, right here, right now….all the extended time in the world will not make me successful in changing a tire.

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I don’t need more time to figure it out–I never will. My brain does not think that way. I am terrible at machine and mechanical things. Tools, cogs, levers….none of that stuff is intuitive to me.

Give me 1000 years and all the tools, and I will never be able to figure out how to change a tire on my own. I do not possess the skill set to do this, no matter how much time you give me to work on my recall or problem solving.

And that, right there, is the fundamental problem with this IEP accommodation. If the student does not have the skill set or information to recall, it doesn’t matter how long you give them to try and work on this.

When is extended time on tests appropriate?

First, we need to engage the kids more in these accommodations. Ask them. Do trial runs. A student can sit in a small group or 1:1 and work on a few sample test questions. And they can usually tell you what is keeping them from answering the question.

  • If a child is a slow reader, because they are still working on decoding and fluency, then extra time may be appropriate.
  • If a child cannot read, decode or is not fluent in reading or writing, extra time will not matter.
  • If a child is slow to process, extra time on tests may be appropriate.
  • If they cannot problem solve, or working memory is so poor they cannot recall and apply the information, then this is just wasted space on IEPs.

And this is the digging deep that many parents and schools overlook.

It just gets put on IEPs and 504s, and no one thinks much about it. “Extra test taking time? Great!”

Make sense?

Now, we cannot get an AAA membership for our kids to take tests. That’d be great, huh? Just call an 800 number and an hour later someone shows up and does it for you. But that doesn’t mean all is lost.

multiplication test

Test Kids in a Way they Understand

We need to dig deep and really ask ourselves–what is the goal of this test? To test knowledge? Recall? Apply skills?

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How can this be modified to meet the child where they are? If a child possesses the knowledge that a teacher wishes to check, why is there only ever one way to demonstrate that knowledge? Why isn’t a verbal test offered? A scribe, just for tests? What about voice to text or text to voice?

Tests in IDEA or Section 504

This is a really common accommodation. Like I said, I see it on almost every IEP I read. And yet, there is nothing in IDEA or Section 504 about it. Which makes sense. I in IEP means individual–and it would go against the very spirit of IDEA to give schools a menu from which to choose.

Like anything else, if you wish to make a change to an IEP, put your request in writing and ask to meet, follow up with the PWN.

One scenario that I have run into occasionally is not applying this accommodation universally. If a child needs extra time to take a test in one subject, then it should apply to all subjects. Children do not have a learning disability or lack a skill set for only part of a day, or only for certain subject areas.

How Much Extra Time Should a Child get to take a Test?

Whatever the child needs. Seriously.

Again, these urban legends that “we can only give 1.5x the amount of time other kids get” and lots of other bs floating around.

IDEA does not define this. I in IEP.

Keep in mind–at some point, it will be counterproductive and affect self esteem and motivation. If you sit at a test for twice as long as your peers, and you still don’t get a good grade…imagine how that feels.

And kids internalize this, thinking it is their fault.

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When, in reality, it’s probably that they have not been taught the content using a method that works for them.

Taking Standardized Tests and Extra Time

Each state has its own set of standardized tests, and the related value of each. Your best bet here is not to go to the school with your questions. Go right to your Dept of Ed website and look for the information there.

I find that this is one area where urban legends are alive and well and running rampant in communities. What is and isn’t allowed during standardized tests is often information passed down from staff member to staff member, and is not always accurate. Call your state’s 800 number, as many states have hotlines for assistance in Special Education.

If your child is taking the SAT or another similar test, research this early. If you request accommodations or exceptions, this has to be done ahead of time.

Extra Time on ACT/SAT or Driver’s Exam

Again, go to the test publisher’s website and look for the information there. There is so much misinformation out there. “You have to do this….” or “You can only do this….”

With any exam that is not developed by the teacher, but comes from an official department or publisher, it’s best to go there.

That being said, at the very core of this issue—if a child is not allowed to use accommodations for a disability, I would think that is discriminatory. But not every issue is cut and dry either.

My final thoughts–as parents and teachers, we owe it to our kids to rethink this accommodation. Putting meaningless and counterproductive accommodations on IEPs is not helpful to anyone.

This is something we need to stop breezing over in IEP meetings with the “Oh we put that on all of them.” Define it. What is it going to look like for your child? And is that what your child needs?

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And, as always, engage the child in this decision to the maximum extent possible.

Testing, 1, 2, 3……….

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