How to Help Students with Learning Disabilities Prepare for Standardized Tests

New York City schools are already challenging to navigate for students with learning disabilities, and even beyond routine schoolwork, there are many different standardized tests that NYC kids have to take. All of these exams can be daunting for students who have learning disabilities. Kids may need to take the ISEE or SSAT in order to apply for independent elementary and middle schools, then the SHSAT for specialized high schools, and finally the SAT or ACT as part of the college application process. In addition to these lengthy standardized tests, students must also do well during their routine exams and weekly homework in school. The combination of school work and test prep can lead to significant stress for students who aren’t prepared, and kids or teens with learning disabilities may need to work even harder than their peers to keep up in test settings. When you’re trying to learn more about test prep for kids and teens with learning disabilities, you may wonder:

• How can private tutoring help students with learning disabilities? • What are the benefits for students with learning disabilities from working with a tutor year-round versus using a test-prep tutor for a specific exam? How can a tutor tailor lessons to meet the individual needs of students with learning disabilities? • What testing accommodations are available for the SAT and ACT for students with learning disabilities? • What testing accommodations are available for the ISEE and SSAT for students with learning disabilities? • Do schools know if a student with a learning disability uses testing accommodations? • How should students with learning disabilities prepare to take standardized tests?

This article was written to answer these questions and provide some helpful information on test prep and tutoring for students with learning disabilities in New York City.

How Can Private Tutoring Help Students with Learning Disabilities?

For students who struggle with learning disabilities, the cycle of schoolwork, exams, and school projects can be a little overwhelming, especially for kids who mainstream and attend regular high schools without much extra support from teachers. Sometimes families may want to consider tutoring in order to keep a child on track with school work, or help a kid start preparing for finals, or study for high school or college entrance exams. A private tutor’s increased attentiveness to a student’s needs can help that student manage a specific class or understand a tricky concept, but private tutoring can also make a larger impact by providing the student with life-long learning skills.

As families of kids with learning disabilities know, students with learning differences such as dyslexia, ADHD, language processing trouble, or autism spectrum disorders will learn differently and test differently than other children. For example, a student with dyslexia may have issues feeling confident about reading in front of the class, or may need help finding ways to absorb information from textbooks in better ways. A tutor can help students build confidence in reading skills, as well as formulate a study system to make sure that students can read required material efficiently and still understand the information. Kids with ADHD may not be able to sit through a few hours of test prep at a time, which is usually how school-run test prep and group test prep courses are conducted. A tutor trained in working with kids who have ADHD will understand the need to structure sessions differently, so as to best engage that student and still pass on important information. A tutor can also help kids construct a study plan and practice useful test-taking skills, and that can make a huge difference on exam day. Kids who have autism spectrum disorders may do well when they encounter routine questions on an exam, but react poorly when they face a brand-new type of problem, or open-ended essays or questions that don’t have one right answer. A tutor can help kids prepare for the unexpected by going through different types of test questions and making kids feel more comfortable with a change in routine, which can help counteract anxiety during tests. Of course, there are many other ways for tutors to step in and assist kids who struggle with learning disabilities, and these are just a few examples of steps a tutor could take to make exams a little less stressful.

Sometimes it can seem like a child just isn’t understanding any of the material, which can frustrate everyone involved! However, the real issue can be something as simple as not having a good way to study, or not knowing how to budget time on test questions. Simple skills like planning, organizing material, brainstorming ways to solve problems, finding the important information in dense passages, and structuring essays are all important and shouldn’t be overlooked, because these crucial learning mechanisms will come up again and again in high school, college, and beyond. This helpful article from Great Schools has plenty of recommendations for kids with learning disabilities who want to improve study skills and test-taking strategies.

What Are The Benefits For Students With Learning Disabilities from Working With A Private Tutor Year-Round?

One of the best ways to explore tutoring is to find a tutor who has experience working with students who have learning disabilities. The benefit to private tutoring is that the tutor can devote time to each kid’s particular needs and create individualized strategies for improving math skills, building reading and vocabulary skills, writing essays, doing weekly homework for school, or strengthening a weak academic area.

Sometimes parents zero in on boosting test scores—the ISEE, SSAT, SAT, or ACT, for example—but are less inclined, for various reason, to use tutoring to help a child with learning differences build skills and confidence year-round. Building a relationship with a tutor in the fall, then meeting periodically throughout the year can be beneficial for improving students’ performance in school, especially for kids and teens who attend mainstream schools, but still struggle with learning disabilities. A great way to make school more fun and less overwhelming is to think of tutoring as specialized homework help each week: a student who works closely with a tutor each week can ask plenty of questions, get comfortable sharing weak spots or areas of strength, and benefit from spending time concentrating on exactly what that student needs to build up. Once it’s time for finals, or a big project, or a standardized test, it will be easy to shift those weekly tutoring sessions from focusing on routine school work to designated test prep.

How Will a Private Tutor Meet The Specific Needs of a Student With a Learning Disability?

Firstly, if a child is demonstrating learning difficulties, it might be a good idea for parents to request an evaluation performed by a state licensed professional such as a neuropsychologist or speech language pathologist. Tutoring can be very effective if guided by a complete assessment, particularly by one or more licensed professionals. Once specific recommendations are made for the student with learning difficulties, a trained tutor who has experience teaching kids with that particular learning disability can create customized learning plans. For example, a tutor could do weekly sessions with a dyslexic student. Sometimes it can be tough to speak up in class or volunteer to read if you know you’ll get some of the words wrong, and a tutor could help build confidence so the student can participate in class. Or perhaps the same students wants to practice a presentation he or she has to show the rest of the school, and he or she wants to work on building strong speaking skills. For test prep, these skills could be combined when students need to read long passages and answer questions—all the reading help during the year will translate to better test scores on exam day.

A private tutor can also be a good match for kids with ADHD or other needs that make it challenging to concentrate for hours at a time. Long sessions can be typical at many test prep classes or homework help sessions, but they may not be a good fit. Working one-on-one with a tutor means a much more flexible approach to learning, which is beneficial for kids who may need to take lots of breaks or engage in more alternative learning methods.

Students who struggle with dysgraphia or other fine motor skill development issues can also benefit from routine sessions with a tutor. For younger kids, these sessions will obviously focus more on writing mechanics, but older students can combine these strategies with writing help in general—ways to structure essays, approach writing assignments, etc. At its core, tutoring offers plenty of flexibility and personalized attention in whatever subject students struggle with, which is why tutoring can be such a good match for anyone who has a learning disability. Sometimes even the simple ability to go over problems many times and ask questions without worrying about peers at school can be enough to make a difference in a kid’s education.

The key is to look for tutors with experience teaching kids with learning disabilities, because someone who struggles with ADD and someone who has dyslexia will need different types of lessons in order to maximize their learning. It’s a good idea to compare a few different tutors, just to get a sense of their past experience with learning disabilities—recommendations from other families can be a useful way to understand a tutor’s approach. Keep an eye out for tutors with special training in working with kids who have learning disabilities, because that extra experience will ensure that kids get the best help possible, whether that involves test prep or more routine school work. There are several national organizations such as the International Dyslexia Association, or the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) that can assist you through the process and provide you with local professional referrals. You may also contact your local school district to find out about any free tutoring services offered. Origins Tutoring also works with tutors and experts who specialize in helping students with learning disabilities succeed in school. Please contact us for a complimentary consultation  so we can discuss the options available to you.

What Kind of Testing Accommodations for the SAT and ACT are Available for Students with Learning Disabilities?

The SAT and ACT are high-pressure exams for any teen applying to college, and the tests can be even more stressful for students with learning disabilities. Thankfully, there are measures in place for both exams that can make the test more accessible for students who might otherwise struggle with standardized testing. Neither exam has specific accommodations in place for dyslexia, ADHD, hyperactivity, or other common disabilities. Instead, both exams offer combinations of strategies that can help teens perform at their best. The most typical type of testing accommodation students can get is extended time, which usually means getting time and a half for the test: SAT test-takers would get six hours instead of four hours, and a similar timeframe follows for the ACT. In some cases this extended time means double time, so students could get up to eight hours for the exam. Other types of accommodations might include increased breaks between sections, tests administered in braille or large text, or the use of a scribe for students who struggle with fine motor skills movements. Additional accommodations include accessible test sites, or increased snack and drink breaks during the tests. Sign language and written instructions from the proctors are available.

Again, there is no one type of accommodation for every student with a certain type of learning disability. When families apply for testing accommodation, they can request specific types of accommodations, or ask the school’s counselors for recommendations. Since the SAT and ACT are prepared to offer accommodations to students with a wide variety of learning disabilities, there will be appropriate steps taken so all students can do their best on either test.

If you’re planning to apply for testing accommodations, it’s incredibly important to have the proper documentation of a learning disability before teens plan to take the test. Usually the SAT and ACT will expect students to have documentation of a learning disability dating back to freshman year of high school or before, so you’ll want to hang onto any kind of medical record that could help support a request for accommodations. These could include doctor’s notes, individual learning plans, response to intervention plans, or records of accommodations on previous tests.

The college counselor at a teen’s high school will help in the application process, and fill you in on deadlines. For families with plenty of supporting documents, accommodations should be available, but be aware that some students will get rejected for test accommodations. This is usually because of a lack of proper documentation, or suspicious circumstances like a learning disability diagnosis a few months before test time. Following the proper application schedule and providing records of a disability reaching back through the high school years should be enough for students to get accommodations.

Both Additude Magazine and the National Center for Learning Disabilities have great advice about which test to choose if you struggle with ADHD or other learning disabilities, and this is an important choice for any teen to make. The key to keep in mind is that one test is not better than the other, and that both tests offer different things to students. There’s also a big difference with how timed accommodations work on either test: on the SAT, students who get extended time have more time on each section, but can’t skip from section to section depending on how the test is going. On the ACT, students who have extra time can use that time as they see fit—that could mean spending more time on math and speeding through the reading section, or vice versa.

Taking both exams, or taking practice exams for the SAT and the ACT, can be a good way to see which test feels like a better fit. It’ll be important to think through these choices and to work with a high school counselor in order to choose the best option, but at the end of the day, colleges only need to see one strong score. To see another article on accommodations for the SAT and ACT, explore Origins Tutoring’s earlier article on testing accommodations. Additional information about SAT and SAT accommodations qualifications can be found in this New York Times article about the accommodations system.

What Kind of Testing Accommodations for the ISEE and SSAT are Available For Students With Learning Disabilities?

Similar accommodations methods exist for both the ISEE and the SSAT. Extended time is the typical accommodation granted, but just like the SAT and the ACT, there are a few different options for students with learning disabilities. Documentation is required, and since the ISEE and SSAT can be essential for applying to middle schools, it’s especially important for students to have a history of a confirmed learning disability in order to receive testing accommodations.

For kids who will need testing accommodations, it’s key to apply early, just like the process for college admissions exams. Working with a school counselor is also a good way to make sure all the required documentation is in order, and since it’s likely that these tests may be the first serious standardized tests that students take, you might want to consider extra practice tests, mimicking the accommodations that your kid will expect. This might mean running a mini practice test with extended time, or extra breaks, or whatever your kid will have on testing day. The more familiar you can make the test format, the easier it will be when it’s actually time for the ISEE or SSAT.

Do Schools Know If Students With Learning Disabilities Use Accommodations?

In a shift toward making elementary, middle, and high schools more accessible to students with learning disabilities, major standardized test companies do not share students’ testing accommodation status. This may be a relief for students who aren’t comfortable sharing their learning disability with others. No one needs to be nervous about applying for accommodations or choosing to take standardized tests with accommodations. Ultimately it is the score that schools will see, along with a complete application package, so every student gets a chance to shine.

How Should Students With Learning Disabilities Prepare for Standardized Tests like the SAT, ACT and ISEE?

At Origins Tutoring, we’ve published a few articles on the Origins Tutoring blog about methods of preparing for the SAT or ACT. Similar principles apply for the ISEE and SSAT, and the key for all of the exams is practice!

As you saw at the beginning of the article, tutors can work with students year-round so that test prep isn’t so intimidating, and students may prefer the routine of meeting with someone regularly throughout the school year, instead of trying to cram right before an important test. For teens with learning disabilities, private tutoring offers the extra benefit of getting to know a qualified professional who can create plans to maximize learning for individual students. Sometimes students also like the privacy they get with a one-on-one tutoring session—it can be intimidating to think about asking questions in test prep class or in school study sessions, but meeting with a tutor gets rid of any nervousness about asking questions. If you’re interested in exploring tutoring, you can ask friends about their experiences with tutors, or explore the options in your neighborhood—some research into different types of test prep and tutoring options can help find the best fit for any child.