Accommodations. Something to which I’ve honestly not given much thought. Cameron’s IEP is ripe with accommodations, but his school environment is such that accommodations are pretty much built-in for every student. Small class sizes are a given … Extended time on tests … check. I recall that accommodations were often mentioned in staff meetings when I was an Independent Living Skills Instructor at a postsecondary program for students with learning challenges. The line of conversation in which accommodations were brought up usually entailed tutor frustration over students not utilizing their accommodations. This was the point in the meeting where I usually secretly checked my personal email on my phone. I never really paid much attention to this issue, because I frankly didn’t see it as an issue. If students didn’t utilize accommodations, was it really that big a deal?
But now my eyes have been opened. Oddly enough, it wasn’t Cameron’s need for accommodations that shed light on the matter for me. No, this week Cameron’s sister gets the academic challenge spot light. “Challenge” is not a word often associated with Cameron’s sister when it comes to academics. Her father and I have made a diligent effort to find a school where she will be challenged and not just coast through her core subjects. Two and a half years ago, just before she entered third grade, we had her tested to see if she was really as bright as we thought she was, or if it was just parental pride (and lack of experience with a “typical” learner.) The report from the testing showed that she was in fact very bright. However, in tests that were constrained by time, she did noticeably worse. (Worse meaning her scores were in the “average” range.) The psychologist that conducted the testing composed a list of recommendations for her, and among them was an accommodation of double time for testing. Testing had never really been an issue for my daughter, so there wasn’t much attention paid to the suggested accommodations. Instead, we focused on the outstanding test scores and sought a school for her that would keep her on her toes.
Late last year, as the long shadows of winter set in, my daughter lost the joyfulness that defined her personality. My husband and I were constantly wondering what we could do to help her out of the dark clouds that often brought her to tears at the end of the day. We sought advice from her school, friends, and advisors. We saw therapists, trying to find someone she felt comfortable talking to. We considered a change of school for the next academic year. In an effort to give her something to look forward to, I proposed she test for the Introduction to Robotics summer camp offered through the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. She liked the idea of a robotics camp, so I signed her up for the standardized test required for acceptance to the program. They offer two tests—one is optional—but the score threshold is lower with combined scores. Since the tests were timed, and I knew timed tests were not her strong suit, I signed her up for both tests. She missed qualifying for the robotics camp by three points. Great! I’d just made a bad situation worse by shooting a hole in her already fragile self-esteem.
I pulled out that old report from her initial testing and re-read it. It was like I was reading it for the first time. Instead of focusing on the superior test scores and percentiles, I focused on the narrative of the report. There were very few sentences that didn’t contain the word “anxiety.” The double time for testing accommodation didn’t seem like such a trivial recommendation now. Maybe this “anxiety” was at the root of her discontent of late. I decided to have her re-test for the robotics camp, but applied for accommodations. She was granted double time, and re-took one of the two tests. The second time around, not only did she qualify for the robotics camp, but she qualified for the High Honor Award recognition ceremony for high achievers.
But the moral of the story isn’t about my daughter’s testing achievement. The real achievement is that by utilizing a simple accommodation, she was able to reach her full potential. By addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room named Anxiety, Joyfulness and Pride have rejoined the party. Those accommodations we thought were nice if you could get ‘em but weren’t really teaching her how to work hard … well … we see those differently now. She has subsequently had a round of standardized tests at school, with accommodation. I don’t have to wait for the results to come in, because she feels good about her work. And that’s what really matters. Accommodations matter. I’ll never doubt it again.