What’s Up With the ACT?


The ACT (American College Test) was first introduced in 1959 as an alternative to the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), and seems to have eclipsed the SAT at this point.  Many vision therapy practitioners are approached by parents of high schoolers to request support for accommodations on standardized tests.  The SAT guidelines for accommodations are straightforward, and from an optometric standpoint still leave requests for extended time or breaks to professional judgement and standardized documentation within one’s field of expertise.

Although additional break time would make sense for test takers who merely experience visual fatigue with sustained close work, the problem is more challenging for students who have visual conditions resulting in variability of vision.  The advantage of extended time, as opposed to imposed breaks, is that the student can self-pace depending on how his or her visual system is functioning at specific points in time.  Obviously due to the nature of these standardized tests, much of the visual demand centers on reading, as well as the precision required in entering data.


The ACT Policy for Documentation has a curious paragraph its section on Visual Impairment, and I’m referring specifically to item 3 here regarding the request for extended time:

Visual Impairment

The applicant must provide diagnostic results from a complete ocular examination performed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Documentation must address the following:

  1. Specific ocular diagnosis;
  2. Record of complete, current (within past 12 months) ocular examination including: chief complaint, history of illness, visual acuity, complete ocular motility exam (versions, tropias, phorias, stereopsis), slit lamp exam, visual field, pupil exam, optic nerve, and retina; and
  3. If the diagnosed condition is purported to affect reading, results of a measure of reading (decoding, rate, and comprehension) are required. Examples of acceptable measures of reading include the WIAT-III and GSRT. Assertions of poor reading speed (or other conditions requiring additional time) made by vision professionals must be corroborated by educational and/or psychometric data. Letters from an eye care professional and/or a Visagraph score are not acceptable as evidence of reading problems requiring extended time on the ACT.

What do you think prompted the ACT to put in that exclusion?

13 thoughts on “What’s Up With the ACT?

  1. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but our office used to readily send in the Visagraph report with our accommodation requests as part of their “proof that the vision problem interferes with learning” requirement. Last year we started getting letters back that they would no longer be accepted.

      • Sometimes, the school has taken care of that component (facilitated by the school counselor). Otherwise, we’ve had to work with an educational psychologist to do the additional testing to support my request. Many parents aren’t willing to do the additional testing though, and have just given up on it.

  2. Unfortunately it’s the same burden of proof that we see in the schools. They want proof that the child cannot achieve through any other means, other than the accommodations. It’s typical to have a 3rd grader spending 4 hours per night on homework, plus tutoring, but accommodations requests get denied because the child is “passing”. Never mind all the stress & effort in the family just to get him a C. The only way for the child to get the 504 is to let him fail. Most parents aren’t willing to do that.

  3. These changes are in line with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2004 which required both identification of a disability and documentation of the impact of the identified disability on the tasks of reading, writing, or math performance which required performance on test scores (not necessarily grades) to be significantly below average. It has taken both ACT and SAT awhile to catch up to NCLB, so it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that these changes formally went into effect. I have been able to qualify almost all of my clients for accommodations, but a full psycho-educational assessment backed up by the reports of the developmental optometrist have been required. It gets a little tricky for kids who are very intelligent and ACT now requires a full assessment for the individual to even be considered. Knowing which tests will be the ones most likely affected by the area of visual impairment is key. It is a battle of sorts, but I find that the assessments done at this age are also necessary for any college 504 planning, so having the student assessed at 16 can be a useful for several reasons. BTW getting the 504 in college is often a lot easier than getting one in high school! But the data must warrant the need.

  4. I’ve been writing these letters for some years. In the Midwest, they say you have to follow the guidelines of the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act.) This says that your “disability” must separate you from your peers. SO, while my 504 Modifications are a starting point for this, it seems that having 1) a copy of the teacher’s notes at your desk and 2)extra time to take tests was not enough. The critical piece is that the child needs the additional 3) been removed from the classroom to take tests in a quiet room alone and 4) be allowed to write in the test booklet, not using a scantron answer sheet.

  5. Len,
    Fortunately, they included pupillary testing which is a much more robust indication of the need for accommodations.

  6. In the Midwest, the latest is using the ADA as guidelines for modified testing situations. The American with Disabilities Act says that your disability must separate you from your peers. SO now, patients in the past needing 1) extended test time and 2) a copy of the teachers’ notes at their desk for direct copying is not enough. They additionally need 3) a separate, quiet room in which to take all tests and 4) be allowed to mark answers in their test booklets rather than transfer to a scantron answer sheet. That works. I am now modifying my 504 Modifications letters to reflect this for high school patients, advising them of this for ACT testing in their future.

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