The Educational Testing Service, a national, private nonprofit group which administers several standardized tests, including the GRE, GMAT and TOEFL, has agreed to stop “flagging” or placing asterisks or similar symbols on the score reports of students with disabilities to indicate that a test-taker is disabled.
Senior mechanical engineering major Jeremy Johansen, who is also the treasurer for the National Alliance of Blind Students, fought to discontinue ETS’s flagging.
On Jan. 20, Johansen took the GRE as part of the process of applying to graduate schools. Because Johansen took the Braille version of the test instead of the computerized version, he was not able to receive his scores immediately. Instead, Johansen’s unofficial scores arrived Feb. 21, which meant that none of the colleges he applied to received his scores.
“I had an awful experience with it,” he said.
Johansen contacted ETS last fall while he was applying for GRE materials. He said, however, that he found both the ETS website and 800 number virtually useless in finding out what sort of accommodations ETS makes for disabled students.
The National Alliance of Blind Students and the American Council for the Blind worked together to create a resolution asking ETS to make specific changes in policy that will protect the rights of disabled students taking standardized tests.
The discontinuation of flagging is the first step in many changes that the National Alliance of Blind Students hopes to stimulate in the near future. Johansen would like to see the implementation of computerized software that reads the test on the screen to the test-taker, so that blind students will be able to take the computerized test as well and will be able to receive their scores immediately.
The National Alliance of Blind Students is drafting a letter that details additional concerns regarding ETS’s policy on standardized testing options for disabled students. The letter addresses the delay in receiving scores, the use of new technological devices to help disabled students take the test more easily and the ineffectiveness of test preparation material for disabled students. Blind students cannot use the preparation materials for ETS’s standardized tests.
Both the National Alliance of Blind Students and the Commission on Disability Access (C.O.D.A.) are pleased to see ETS change its policy.
“I feel very optimistic about ETS and the progress they’re making in making the test more accessible,” Johansen said. “This is a really good thing. Definitely a step in the right direction.”
“This is a huge change for educational testing,” C.O.D.A. founder Mel Fabi said. “I think a lot of students underestimate the power for change. A member of C.O.D.A. made a national change. I think that’s so amazing. It’s incredible.”