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The EDUFAX Educational FAQ
I have a LEARNING DISABILITY.....
take me back to the list of questions
- I attend a state college. I am learning disabled.
My main disability is recall. I have been failing my exams
because the professors will not allow me take open-book exams,
because they believe it would be cheating. I have asked the
accommodations department to assist me, but they cannot make the
professors change the school policy, which is not have open-book
exams unless the entire class is doing so. Shouldn't open-book
exams be included in my accommodations, if my disability
requires it? What should I do? (courtesy Jasmine C. Delaney,
- If you have a formally & professionally diagnosed learning
disability, then your college is required to offer you
accommodations, by Federal Law. However, unless open-book exams
were a specific designation on your high school IEP, you may
have to have new psychoeducational testing and submit an
educational evaluation which states that this is the only valid
way for you to retrieve learned information.
Go to the Dean of Students and describe your situation. If you
do not get any help from the Dean, call the local chapter of the
Learning Disabilities Association and ask them to help you find
someone who can help interpret the law so that you can receive
the accommodations to which you are entitled.
Reader's Response: Your response is correct. The student needs to present appropriate
documentation of her disability. The college is required to offer
accommodations - however, there are some guidelines in which
colleges operate that differ significantly from high schools.
In high school, the institution is required to provide all
accommodations that would make education accessible - including
those that might significantly alter the course content, as long as
the student has an opportunity to learn.
In college, the requirement is to offer an opportunity to learn, as
long as it does not significantly alter the course content or what
the exam is intended to measure.
This student's request for accommodation may approach that
"significantly alter" barrier. What is not clear is how much the
college has attempted to work with the instructors involved to make
that determination. Further, it is not clear if some middle ground
has or has not been reached.
For example, some students who request open book exams when part of
the test is measuring memory, have done well with alternative
accommodations - such as note cards that remind a student of the
process while still requiring the student to remember how to apply
the process. If the student and the college are at a standstill, the
college would need to not only demonstrate that the recall of facts
or other memorized items is not only what a test is designed to
measure, but that this skill is also necessary for the field of
The Courts and Office of Civil Rights have usually left it up to the
college and professors to make these decisions - but a formal
decision must be made.
I think what is missing here is that the college has never said to
the student that her request is unreasonable. Without that formal
decision, she is left in limbo. It is unfair to her not to have that
formal decision because without it she cannot pursue other actions
(changing careers/majors or seeking legal recourse). In similar
situations, the Office of Civil Rights has found institutions at
fault for leaving students in limbo like this.
I think the best advice for this student is to get it in writing as
to why this accommodation is being refused and if any other
accommodations have been offered to attempt help the student. If
other accommodations have been offered, but she has not tried them,
she needs to make the attempt with the offered accommodations. If
that fails, then she is in a position to decide what is next. If she
has used all the processes available to her at the college -
including the grievance process - she is then in a position to
pursue legal recourse or make career or major changes.
I also need to note that she does not have to pursue all processes
at the college before seeking legal action, but it will make her
case stronger if she has and the college has not responded
I hope this helps the student. It sounds like she is in a difficult
(courtesy Carol Achziger, Computer Access Center
Coordinator, Arapahoe Community College, Littleton, CO)
EDUFAX provides services for the Learning Disabled Student.
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