PA Accommodates Students with Learning Disabilities

Twenty-four Phillips Academy students currently receive accommodations for their learning disabilities, according to Patricia Davison, Coordinator of Student Disability Resources and Director of Academic Support Center. Davison said that there are more students at Andover with learning disabilities, but they have chosen not to use accommodations or disclose their disability. According to Davison, there are three types of learning disabilities. A processing speed disability affects a person’s ability to quickly comprehend information. An executive functioning disability affects a person’s abilities to plan, organize and prioritize. Attention deficit disorders, such as ADD and ADHD, can affect one’s ability to focus for a long period of time. An Upper male with a learning disability who requested anonymity said, “I’m a slow reader, and it takes me a while to process things. I also have a little bit of ADD, so it’s hard for me to focus.” To qualify for accommodations in the classroom, a student has to have a doctor adminster a neuropsychological evaluation. A student can only receive accommodations if the findings of this test indicate a learning disability. The Upper male said that he is granted 50 percent extra time on tests. “I can come in earlier or stay later [to take a test]. It works out well because I have either conference or a free period [before or after all of my classes]. I have physics first period, so I come in early at 7:30,” he said. Davison said that the Academic Support Center finds out about a student’s learning disability in one of three ways. “A tiny fraction [of students] disclose their learning disability during admission. Others disclose later, and another group discovers it once they get here,” she said. According to Juliana Reider ’10, who was diagnosed with dyslexia over the summer, Davison first recognized that Reider had a learning disability. She said, “I really appreciate [Davison’s] initiative to tell me to go and get testing.” Reider said that before her diagnosis, “I would have to go ask [my teachers] for extra time. Sometimes I wasn’t sure how to approach them and ask them for extra time, and it was sometimes inconvenient for them.” Once a student has a verifiable learning disorder, Davison and the Academic Support Center notify teachers that the student needs special arrangements. Accommodations for learning disabilities at Andover are “tailored to the individual person’s disability,” said Davison. According to Davison, these accommodations can include extra time on tests, note-takers for students in class or textbooks on tape. Davison said that she orders textbooks on tape for students with dyslexia. She added that Kurzweil Readers, scanners that read text from a page, are also helpful. Susan McCaslin, Instructor in Philosophy and Religion, said that she most commonly encounters students who need to take tests using laptops or require extra time. “I’ll let a test go into conference or arrange for an essay to be taken at another time and place,” said McCaslin. David Stern, Instructor in Chemistry, said that he once accommodated a student’s learning disability by letting his student take tests in another room with headphones. The Upper male, whom doctors diagnosed with a learning disability three years ago, said that his former school was less accepting of his disability than Andover. “Andover handles it really well. It was really easy for me to get extra time on my tests in my classes,” he said. The student said that he is pleased with how understanding his teachers are about his disability. McCaslin said, “As a teacher, I’ve felt like we’ve been able to work out a system of support for the students and not unduly onerous for the teacher.” Davison said, “I don’t think the faculty in any way, shape or form discriminate against a student with a learning disability.” Peter Drench, Chair of the History Department, said, “Learning disabilities make us think not only about how we’re teaching in auditory or tactile ways, but how we’re setting up [other] kinds of learning opportunities.” “[They make us] recognize that everyone does not have the same skills. [Teaching] is about all students, and they’re not all on the same plane,” he continued. Davison said that the Admissions Office will not reject any applicants based on a learning disability. “If students are ‘otherwise qualified,’ or can do the work with accommodations, we would [treat them like any other applicant,]” she said. She said, “You come to Andover and your compensatory techniques don’t work because [work] is harder and faster [here].” A disability would not be as apparent in a non-challenging environment. Students with learning disabilities may also qualify for accommodations on standardized tests, such as the SATs. Linda Sullivan, Director of Standardized Testing, said that the College Board can approve different accommodations for standardized tests include fifty percent extended time, headphones, laptops, a personal reader like a scribe or an extra break. She said, “Whatever accommodations [the students] qualify for goes through [Davison] and then it goes through College Board, which just lets me know what kind of accommodations they get.” College Board has twice denied the Upper male’s request for extra time on the SAT, even after he appealed the first rejection. “I had to submit two tests, one having been taken with the extra time and one without, so [College Board] could see the difference,” he said. “I didn’t do that, so I think that’s why I didn’t get accepted.” Reider said, “I didn’t even know there was an option to get extra time on the SAT until Davison told me about it.” According to Sullivan, about one or two Phillips Academy students use accommodations for standardized testing every month.