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Diabetes and the Standardized Test

Test-taking tips for students with diabetes

The standardized test ­– complete with those memorable traditions of sharpened No. 2 pencils, answer bubbles, pre-test worries, and post-exam relief ­– is still a fixture at some point in most students’ careers. Many states require standardized assessment testing at multiple grade levels, so most kids will, at some point, find themselves in the exam chair.

For those tackling these exams while also living with diabetes, however, there may be some extra considerations:  What if the student needs access to food during the exam? What if a blood glucose test is necessary? What if the student needs to take a break due to hypoglycemia symptoms? After all, tests are often designed to be completed start to finish within a specific time frame – and rules often prohibit snacks in the exam facility.

According to the American Diabetic Association’s notebook (the Association) “Legal Rights for Students with Diabetes,” while not all students with diabetes need extra time to complete standardized tests, some do – and they can ask for special accommodations and to have their test times adjusted. However, students must make a formal request of the administering agency in advance (information about accommodations can be found on the websites for the SAT® and ACT®), and school officials should be consulted.

In this Association article, the organization’s associate director of legal advocacy, Crystal Jackson, and staff attorney Katharine Gordon offer a variety of suggestions that may help make the test-taking process smoother – so students living with diabetes may be able to focus more on math and vocabulary, and less on blood sugar while they test.

Some of the Association’s top test-taking tips include:

Ask for what you need.  “Colleges reviewing your test scores have no way of knowing you took your test with special accommodations,” write Jackson and Gordon. So, speaking up is most likely to help, not harm.

Provide paperwork. If you already have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), Section 504 Plan, or other formal documentation in place, requesting accommodation is generally easier. If you don’t, though, Jackson and Gordon say you can still make a request, but you’ll need the right paperwork – including at minimum a doctor’s letter confirming the diabetes diagnosis and detailing specific accommodation needs. 

Plan ahead.  “It’s essential to begin early,” write Jackson and Gordon, because getting accommodations in place can take several months – and remember, you’ll also need to contact each testing agency separately.

Know what to ask for. A student living with diabetes may receive special accommodation during testing, which may range from bringing diabetes supplies and equipment or snacks into the test room to taking a break during the exam, but you need to ask for special permission for your specific needs. Each testing agency will conduct its own review. “You may be placed in a separate room or testing location with a separate proctor,” Jackson and Gordon add.

Consider rescheduling. “It’s a big decision to make, but rescheduling may be the right choice if your blood glucose is way out of range on test day,” Jackson and Gordon point out, adding that the SAT and ACT allow students to cancel scores if a medical situation comes up during the test. However, make sure to discuss rescheduling options with the testing agency before you arrive at the exam.

Sharon Goldman is a New Jersey-based freelance writer who has written on health, fitness, and nutrition for such publications as Health, Self, Marie Claire, Whole Living, Yoga Journal, and EatingWell. Her family history of diabetes inspires her to learn more about how to try and stay healthy by eating right, exercising and reducing stress. Goldman is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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