Frequently Asked Questions About Licensing Exams

Accommodating candidates with disabilities

CLEAR Exam Review (Winter 1994)
Norman R. Hertz

Question: We provide reasonable accommodations for candidates with disabilities and we want to ensure that our policies are fair for all candidates. Most of our candidates with disabilities are those with learning disabilities who usually request additional time. How much additional time should we allow for candidates with learning disabilities, and are we unfair to candidates who are not permitted additional time?

Answer: First, a clear definition of candidates with learning disabilities must be established. Candidates with learning disabilities have significant impairments as determined by a discrepancy of 1.5 standard deviation units between the individual's expected level of achievement and actual performance on reliable standardized measures. These include attention and concentration, memory, language reception and expression, cognition, reading, spelling, writing, and mathematics. Licensing boards may need assistance from educational psychologists or other qualified professionals to gather that information and confirm a learning-disability diagnosis.

Among learning-disabled candidates, extended examination time is the most often requested accommodation. The candidate should specify the amount of additional time needed to ensure that he or she feels reasonable accommodation was provided. There does not appear to be a set amount of additional time that is adequate for all candidates. The best policy is to make the determination on a case-by-case basis. Usually, qualified professionals request that candidates with learning disabilities receive time and one-half or double the standard time.

Licensing examinations are usually designed as power tests, and with power tests sufficient time is allowed so that candidates have an opportunity to respond to all questions. Time limits are usually established for the convenience of the examination administrators, not from a theoretical position that suggests that speed of response should be a factor in successful performance. Recent studies performed with college students found that students without learning disabilities did not significantly improve their scores with extra time.

Students with learning disabilities were able to significantly improve their scores when they were given additional time. In a related finding, students with learning disabilities were as accurate as non-disabled students on the portion of the examination they completed. When the students with learning disabilities were given enough time to complete their tests, there were no significant differences between the two groups. In summary, students with learning disabilities show considerable improvement in test scores when allowed extra time.

There appears to be a "ceiling effect" for students without disabilities; regardless of the amount of time permitted, scores do not improve. Therefore, one could probably assume that candidates without disabilities who sit for an examination under realistic timed conditions but without extended time will not perform better on the examination. More importantly, however, candidates with learning disabilities will perform better given additional time.

In conclusion, a policy to provide extended time for candidates with disabilities without allowing extended time for candidates without disabilities seems to be equitable policy. The primary areas of concern involve documenting that a disability exists and then, the appropriateness of the accommodation.

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2002 Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation