Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

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Twombly
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Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by Twombly » Thu Apr 26, 2018 3:51 pm

I am curious as to what the prevailing policies are for providing accommodations to law school students who qualify? Are there ABA requirements or some other mandatory policies that law schools have to put in place to accommodate their students or is it up to each individual school to decide what accommodations will look like?

As far as I am aware, some law school's primary method is to give students who qualify more time on the final exam. This can be time and a half or double time on the exam.

Further, I am curious about the effect this has on grading. I know this information is no doubt confidential, but hypothetically, how would people feel if it was somehow determined that a vastly disproportionate number of students in the top 10%-15% of a class are students who receive accommodations and therefore had 8 hours on an exam that everyone else had 4 hours on?

I know this can be sensitive territory; I am more so curious in how a law school administration works (or even tries) to ensure that accommodations level the playing field or if this is even possible.

Edit: I want to emphasize my main question is how are accommodations made and who decides the policies behind accommodations? Further, my hypo is intended to question whether the whole process is one that is continually being improved/developed to ensure it is achieving its goal. The flipside would be, what if we found out that those receiving accommodations year after year were disproportionately near the bottom? Obviously then the policies would need to be changed to more accurately accommodate these students - but this just goes back to my MAIN question: how are these decisions/policies made??
Last edited by Twombly on Fri Apr 27, 2018 11:24 am, edited 2 times in total.

BearCat
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Re: Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by BearCat » Fri Apr 27, 2018 12:13 am

There's nothing you can do about other people getting extra time. I can tell you that I am personally acquainted with a majority of the top 5% at my school, and none of them had extra time on any exams, so it's very possible to get stellar grades without extra time.

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archipm
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Re: Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by archipm » Fri Apr 27, 2018 1:14 am

you get exam accommodations through disability services on campus. schools take it seriously and you have to provide medical documentation. your accommodations depend on what your disability is, so extra time is not like some kind of default. as someone with other accommodations who takes exams in the same room with people who get extra time, I can assure you there is no epidemic of disability fraud for exam accommodations. there are usually like 5 people tops and only a couple will even be there for extra time, everyone else is just there for standing desks/reduced distraction environment/etc. which, i will say again, we only get because we have documented medical history of disability/chronic conditions that require whatever our accommodations are.

not gonna touch the hot take hypo about grades

Twombly
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Re: Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by Twombly » Fri Apr 27, 2018 11:15 am

Both of these replies for the most part imagined something that I was not asking/suggesting and then responded to that. My original question might not have been clear. There seems to be a lot of assuming that I have bad intentions here. I do not think at all that there is an epidemic or that people cheat the system or anything. Perhaps I should have foreseen people would make these assumptions and put these disclaimers in my original posting.

I am just genuinely curious about how the whole process works. Archipm provided some information about providing varying forms of accommodations like standing desks or reduced distraction environments. That did answer part of my question. I wasn't sure if it was just a "sorry, all we can offer is extra time so take it or leave it" rule or if they could tailor the accommodations to each person's needs and if so, who gets to decide that - the law school, some university services, state education dept?

Because my ACTUAL question really is - how do schools make these decisions and ensure that they accomplish their goals/purpose? I'm not sure if it was regulated by state/federal law or ABA policy or if schools just made their own rules.

My "hot take" hypo was genuinely based on a thought that IF accommodations are not tailored to individuals then this could create some irregular results and not be anyone's fault other than a one-size-fits-all accommodations policy.

This thought grew out of another idea I have been thinking about - some schools require students to use a specific software to type their exams. Some students genuinely are super slow typers through no fault of their own and others don't have laptops that are compatible with the software. What if it was determined that a disproportionate number of students who handwrite their exams are below median? All policies that effect exam-taking can have big impacts on people's lives and I am truly curious how these are made/updated.

All these questions (and see my other thread about the current exam grading system) just come from a genuine curiosity about how law school administrations work and make decisions and try to achieve a level playing field for all students. Because law school is such an intense, expensive, time-consuming thing, I truly just want to learn more about how the actual institution/administration functions. I apologize if I tread too closely to taboo/sensitive territory.

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Nony
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Re: Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by Nony » Fri Apr 27, 2018 11:59 am

I wasn’t involved with accommodations in law school, but I knew people involved with this for higher ed generally, the accommodations are very specific to the student’s needs (for instance I knew of a student who needed red filters to put over her books b/c she had a disability where looking at black text on a white page made the words appear to jump around; if she had a red filter to look through that didn’t happen. So she got a red filter, which was actually pretty complicated because they had to tailor it to the precise shade of red that worked best for her).

Students who need accommodations need to have registered a disability with the school, which requires documenting the nature of the disability and the accommodation(s) needed, through professional diagnosis. To give a dumb example, someone who’s visually impaired isn’t going to see any better the more time you give them. Instead you’d give them a reader of some kind to read the exam questions to them, or a Braille exam, or the like. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

I know higher ed institutions generally have offices responsible for addressing disabilities and people in those offices are trained in what the law requires and what kinds of disabilities require what kinds of accommodations. Students who need accommodations should also have information from the medical professionals diagnosing the disability about what kind of accommodations a given student needs, and that is what the office will work with a student to get. I don’t know whether law schools have their own offices or work with their umbrella institution (and I’m sure they vary in effectiveness). My friend who had the red filter student learned a LOT about all the different disabilities out there and what accommodations work for which ones; there’s LOTS of research on this and LOTS of specialization.

This is all required by law, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I’m sure there are also layers of state legal requirements as well.

I think the reason for the response you got is that there are concerns about overdiagnosis of learning disabilities and some people are convinced that there’s an epidemic of students gaming the system to get more time and therefore do better and HOW UNFAIR OMG. (Sorry, editorializing.) Accommodations on the LSAT is also particularly (and in my mind, unfairly) controversial. (Also your questions come across a little as if no one has ever thought about these issues before, and I promise you they’re hotly discussed and contested in higher ed.)

Someone whose laptop isn’t compatible with examsoft just needs to get a new laptop. Slow typers can work on improving their typing speed. Those aren’t disabilities that need accommodations, although I realize you probably weren’t suggesting they were. The purpose behind exam software is 1) most people type most of their writings these days and are more fluent at typing than handwriting; 2) it allows the prof to lock down access to the internet/documents on the computer so students can’t cheat/just cut and paste from their notes; 3) it ensures anonymity so profs can grade blind; 4) it’s a lot easier to produce legible output when typing over writing. Not all schools use exam software, I think, and profs don’t always lock down access, but both are pretty common.

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archipm
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Re: Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by archipm » Fri Apr 27, 2018 1:03 pm

Twombly wrote:
Fri Apr 27, 2018 11:15 am
Both of these replies for the most part imagined something that I was not asking/suggesting and then responded to that. My original question might not have been clear. There seems to be a lot of assuming that I have bad intentions here. I do not think at all that there is an epidemic or that people cheat the system or anything. Perhaps I should have foreseen people would make these assumptions and put these disclaimers in my original posting.

I am just genuinely curious about how the whole process works. Archipm provided some information about providing varying forms of accommodations like standing desks or reduced distraction environments. That did answer part of my question. I wasn't sure if it was just a "sorry, all we can offer is extra time so take it or leave it" rule or if they could tailor the accommodations to each person's needs and if so, who gets to decide that - the law school, some university services, state education dept?

Because my ACTUAL question really is - how do schools make these decisions and ensure that they accomplish their goals/purpose? I'm not sure if it was regulated by state/federal law or ABA policy or if schools just made their own rules.

My "hot take" hypo was genuinely based on a thought that IF accommodations are not tailored to individuals then this could create some irregular results and not be anyone's fault other than a one-size-fits-all accommodations policy.

This thought grew out of another idea I have been thinking about - some schools require students to use a specific software to type their exams. Some students genuinely are super slow typers through no fault of their own and others don't have laptops that are compatible with the software. What if it was determined that a disproportionate number of students who handwrite their exams are below median? All policies that effect exam-taking can have big impacts on people's lives and I am truly curious how these are made/updated.

All these questions (and see my other thread about the current exam grading system) just come from a genuine curiosity about how law school administrations work and make decisions and try to achieve a level playing field for all students. Because law school is such an intense, expensive, time-consuming thing, I truly just want to learn more about how the actual institution/administration functions. I apologize if I tread too closely to taboo/sensitive territory.
not having a laptop is not a disability. regardless, schools require you to buy a laptop that is compatible with the exam software they use. being a slow typist is also not a disability. having arthritic joints in your hands/broken bones/nerve issues that make it painful or impossible for you to type at a reasonable speed on your exam is not the same as being a slow typist, and could get you an accommodation like using a different kind of keyboard that is easier on your hands/extra time/both. if (a) someone had a disability that made writing by hand somehow more manageable than typing (this seems doubtful but i guess could be a cognitive thing) and (b) their doctor suggested hand writing exams as an accommodation and (c) the school approved this despite the fact that it would destroy blind grading, then they would almost certainly also have extra time to hand write the exam. if that student then scored below median consistently, it might suggest that their accommodation isn't sufficient and should be reconsidered or maybe their accommodation is fine and they are just not a great student so they are getting not great grades. this would never be a large group of students as your hypo suggests because your hypo is not about disabled students, it is about students with old computers or poor typing skills, neither of which compel accommodations.

the ada requires public and private schools to provide accommodations for students with disabilities. disability law is complicated and interesting and if you are genuinely into it then you should by all means do some research.

asking people on the internet how they would feel if they found out the top students in their class were disproportionately students with disabilities is not a good way to do research on disability law and suggests, whether you intended to or not, that you think it would be a problem. at the very least, it suggests that you think it would be an interesting conversation to hear from people who think it would be a problem, even if you are the totally neutral intellectual observer you insist you are. you did not pose the hypo and wait with bated breath for a bunch of people to say "I would be happy for my disabled classmates who are doing so well" or "I would not have any feeling about this."

the only reasons it would be a problem for disabled students to do disproportionately well is if (a) you think there is a chance that some of those students faked their way into accommodations to game the system and are not actually disabled or (b) you are approaching the question with an underlying premise that if a student who has accommodations does better than a nondisabled student, the accommodation went beyond just leveling the playing field and actually gave them an unfair advantage, because if the playing field were level then the disabled student would never outperform the nondisabled student, and certainly not consistently. these are both harmful and erroneous narratives that lots of nondisabled people think and regularly express and disabled people are pretty tired of playing out the conversation to those insulting ends over and over.

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Nony
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Re: Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by Nony » Fri Apr 27, 2018 1:13 pm

^this. The last paragraph especially.

Twombly
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Re: Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by Twombly » Fri Apr 27, 2018 2:18 pm

archipm wrote:
Fri Apr 27, 2018 1:03 pm
not having a laptop is not a disability.
I by no means said this or meant to imply it. All I was getting at is that every student has different circumstances that can affect their grades and I was wondering how law school's make policies to compensate for those varying circumstances.

In fact, I know students who handwrite their exams solely because they cannot afford a different laptop or their laptop malfunctioned during the exam the policy is to grab a handwriting packet and finish your exam handwritten. Yet it's not crazy to think that handwriting is slower than typing and those handwritten exams will possibly cover less ground = lower grade.
archipm wrote:
Fri Apr 27, 2018 1:03 pm
being a slow typist is also not a disability.
Didn't suggest this either or mean to imply it. I just said the thought that prompted this post came from that. Both are related to circumstances affecting exam taking.
archipm wrote:
Fri Apr 27, 2018 1:03 pm
whether you intended to or not, that you think it would be a problem.

I think it's fair to say it would be a problem if it wasn't working.

Asking about how people would feel was definitely a poorly worded question and I should have thought it out better to more clearly point to what I meant to be getting at.

I readily admit that I approached this topic in poor way. And you know, you're probably mostly right that I had some underlying negative perspectives. I was wrong for the way I was thinking about this topic.
Last edited by Twombly on Fri Apr 27, 2018 2:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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pancakes3
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Re: Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by pancakes3 » Fri Apr 27, 2018 2:30 pm

come on, bro. don't be this guy.

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Nony
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Re: Accommodations in exam taking and elsewhere

Post by Nony » Fri Apr 27, 2018 5:09 pm

I would also suggest it’s not the law school’s job to compensate for *every* obstacle a student faces. By this I *don’t* mean disability accommodations (those are mandated by law), but a student not having the right laptop. Most schools offer students the opportunity to get the financial aid to buy a laptop, I’m pretty sure my school had laptops you could sign out under certain circumstances, and if the laptop failed partway through my school provided another laptop to finish the exam on. (Also I did know people (admittedly not many) who chose to handwrite exams because they hated typing/the computer stressed them out). Part of doing well is dealing with your circumstances. If you’re massively ill or have a family emergency during exams, sure, talk to the school about how to handle that. If you have a disability the school should accommodate that. But it’s not otherwise really the school’s job to ensure that all students are in the same position to succeed, for things that are in the control of the individual student.

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