STUDENTS WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES AND DOCUMENTATION REQUIREMENTS
Dr. Edward A Martinelli
Director – Accessibility Services UVU
LDAU Professional Advisory Board Member
Students with learning disabilities and their parents often consider how to prepare well for the transition from high school to college. Among the issues that confront students with learning disabilities can be transitioning services to the new location. This transition presents changes to the student’s and parent’s role, new legal requirements, new processes, and often the issue of documentation becomes a primary consideration. This article will attempt to briefly consider the functions of documentation in the post-secondary setting, how to prepare to meet the requirements of many college settings, and how to work within and outside the high school system to streamline this process.
UNDERSTAND YOUR RIGHTS UNDER ADA
Under the laws that cover K-12 students, schools are required to identify and serve students with disabilities, while the laws that cover the post-secondary or college setting place most of the responsibility on the student. Additionally, the requirements for documentation in the K-12 setting may be different from the college setting. What is seen as sufficient to qualify a student for services can be different in each setting, sometimes even from college to college. Recently, a fair amount of discussion has occurred at the college level about the difference between documentation that is current and that which is recent. In the past, those two terms have often been synonymous. Legislative and rule changes around The Americans with Disabilities Act have precipitated discussions about how those terms may differ. For instance, a Deaf student who has an audiogram indicating profound hearing loss likely doesn’t need that to be updated every year to substantiate their hearing loss; what was done years ago is a current reflection of their difficulties. The degree to which that same thinking applies to students with learning disabilities has led some schools to give documentation more “shelf life.” Nevertheless, there is broad acceptance that testing done more than about 3-5 years ago likely needs to be updated to reflect current functioning, but once one has testing done as an adult the need for recent documentation seems to taper off.
CHECK WITH YOUR DISABILITY OFFICE
Consequently, it will be important to have a conversation with the colleges a student is interested in as to what the documentation requirements are at each school. The earlier this conversation occurs, the better because once one knows what is required by a school, it becomes possible for individuals to prepare to have that documentation ready when they leave high school. High Schools aren’t required to update documentation solely for a college’s needs. Going through the process to obtain that documentation earlier better prepares everyone for the college transition.
It is often helpful to check with each school you are thinking about applying to about what their requirements are. Many schools will have this information on the Disability Office’s website. You will typically find those offices under “Disability Resource Center” or “Accessibility Office” designations. A simple search of those terms on the college home-page will help. If you have questions about specific issues, a conversation with a counselor in the office can be very helpful.
MAKE SURE YOUR TESTING IS CURRENT
In my experience, the biggest hurdle for students with a learning disability qualifying for services hinges on how old the documentation is and how comprehensive it is. Colleges tend to be less interested in an IEP, and more interested in a psycho-educational evaluation. The reason for this is that the IEP often doesn’t explain to what degree the student is degree, in what ways the student is impacted, or give information about other areas of functioning that need to be considered for a college setting, although it often can show what was used and to what degree it may have been successful. Most colleges are looking for testing that is no more than 3 years old, but as I indicate above that time frame may be shifting. Additionally, they will typically want to see a comprehensive evaluation using a good measure of cognitive ability (e.g., WAIS III/IV or the WJ- III Tests of Cognitive Ability) and a good measure of achievement (e.g., WIAT II/III or the WJ-III Tests of Achievement). They will like to see age-based norms used (where the K-12 setting often uses grade-based norms) and adult measures/tests, if possible. That is typically why the three year rule is applied to most entering college students. Sometimes an IEP can be used for some temporary accommodations while more current documentation is obtained.
Consequently, colleges would like to have the student tested by the high school in their junior or senior year. They typically understand that such retesting may not be needed or feasible by the high school. If you are quite certain that your child is going to college, it might be helpful to bring this up in the IEP process as it relates to getting documentation. Explaining the need for an updated evaluation as a part of the transition process may be more helpful in getting it approved, than simply asking for it to be done for the high school. Once you leave the high school setting, the new evaluation may need to be paid for and it can be expensive.
WHERE TO GET TESTED IF YOUR SCHOOL CAN’T HELP
There are typically a few ways to obtain the documentation if the school won’t do it. First, the college may do this testing at their counseling center or their disability office. This is rare, but does occur often enough to explore the option. Second, the state offices for Vocational Rehabilitation in your area may provide this testing, if you qualify for their services and if it’s seen as necessary for their work in helping the individual obtain employment. This process can take weeks to organize,so exploring this option early is helpful. Third, you can get the testing done by a private psychologist. Typically, colleges are going to want to see a learning disability evaluation completed by a licensed professional using the types of tests mentioned above.
The costs for these evaluations vary. School connected sites can be relatively inexpensive while Vocational Rehabilitation services are free to those who qualify. Colleges often do the evaluation for lower fees ranging from $50 to $250. Private evaluators can charge from $450-800 or more for an assessment. Planning ahead and knowing what’s needed can assist you in obtaining a good evaluation at the lowest cost possible. A good rule of thumb is that the less expensive options take more time. One site I’m aware of that assists community members has a nearly 18 month waiting list. If this need were discussed early in the IEP process, you would have the ability to get on longer waiting lists and get the testing completed in time for college rather than really hustling at the end for a lot more money. A list of potential evaluators sometimes can be obtained from the disability office. You may also want to check with your insurance carrier to see if they can be of any assistance.
To assist in the transition process, I recommend getting with the college disability office sometime in the junior year for testing issues. Sometime late in the senior year can be helpful for sorting out what accommodations are available in the college setting. If a student with a learning disability needs books in an audio format, it is important to give the school enough time to make this happen. With hundreds of books being used in hundreds of classes each term, it can take up to six weeks to get a book created in an accessible format, depending on the format needed.
The transition to the new college setting can be exciting and a bit overwhelming. Getting a handle on a few key elements related to documentation can be very helpful in making the transition as smooth as possible.
Starting early to get the information the college needs speeds the process along. Sorting out documentation needs, qualification processes, and how to obtain the necessary documentation takes time; sometimes months.
Having up-to-date documentation moves the process along much faster than trying to get it just before school starts. Discussions as it relates to transition services may be an important aspect to explore.
Understand the differences in roles, responsibilities, and processes to help both parent and child know what to expect and where to get help.
Understanding your options after high school and creating a plan is important to future success. Options such as a four-year college, two-year college, vocational-technical school or program, adult education and continuing education or a life skill program are all options to be considered after graduation from high school.
As an adult, whichever path you choose to your future is up to you. Many successful adults say that three keys to navigating that path as smoothly and as easily as possible are having a plan, starting early, and knowing your resources. Here are a few tips to make the transition to Post-Secondary education easier.
Obtaining a degree or training beyond high school is often necessary to be competitive in today’s labor market. Whether you choose college, adult and continuing education, or technical preparation, post-secondary education often plays a major role in preparation for employment and career opportunities. Research shows that people believe that post-secondary training or education will enhance their chances of:
Obtaining and maintaining employment
Earning a higher income
A better work environment
Greater job satisfaction