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Accommodations Matter

A parent recently submitted this anonymous success story, which we love. It highlights the often difficult but amazing work that parents and guardians are doing advocating for their kids - as well as the incredible achievements that can be made by dysgraphic students. Just because you may struggle with writing, that doesn’t mean that you can’t shoot for the stars – and the right accommodations can help you get there.

My son is classified by his school district as “twice exceptional”. He is a smart kid who scored high enough on the school’s computer-based testing in 2nd grade that he was put in a screening pool and eventually accepted to the highest level ‘advanced academic program’ track. That very same year, my husband and I were having countless meetings with the school district to qualify him for special education. His qualification is very long story, but he was eventually given school-based diagnoses of “Specific Learning Disability in Written Expression” for his dysgraphia and “Other Health Impairment” for ADHD and he qualified for an IEP. He’s now in 6th grade and ever since the start of 3rd grade, he has received special education services for writing, spelling, composition, and organization alongside his advanced academics. He didn’t qualify for school-based occupational therapy, but we did that for 3 years outside of school too. It hasn’t been an easy path, but it’s been working and his public elementary school has handled it quite well.

Luckily, he’s my second child to go through the same school, so I knew what was coming. In our district, 6th grade advanced math students take a special test (the IAAT or "Iowa test") to help decide if they may take Algebra I in 7th grade. There are other qualifications, but this is the big one. You must have a 91% or higher on this one test. It’s hard to do. Only about 1/4 of my older child’s class had qualified. It's 60 questions in four timed ten minute blocks of fifteen questions each.

No 91%, no Algebra I as a 7th grader.
And here’s the worst part – it’s what I call “a bubble test.” The school calls it scantron. But it's the old school 'fill-in the tiny, oval-shaped bubbles' testing.

I have a dysgraphic kid. He has visual-spatial issues amongst other things. Filling in 60 bubbles properly in 40 minutes would be a major feat, let alone coupling it with doing math problems. Yet, he’s good at math - and he wants a shot at staying in the top math track. I started asking at his end-of-4th grade IEP meeting. When they asked about standardized testing, I said, “What would we need to put in place now so he doesn’t have to take the Iowa test by filling in the bubbles?” Most of their standardized tests are computer based, and I think they thought I was crazy.

A scantron answer sheet with shredded eraser on it

Yet, they were less surprised when I asked the question again at the end of 5th grade. Our excellent Assistant Principal said he’d look into it and they included language on the IEP saying that he should have “mark in assignment document” accommodations for any scantron tests. When we met with his teacher in the first quarter of 6th grade, I asked the same question about the Iowa. She said she didn’t think it was possible to have that accommodation. I sent an email to his special education case manager who said she would check. I never got a definitive answer.

A "notification of testing" email came out in December of 6th grade, asking if any parents wanted to opt-out of this test which would be happening in January. I replied to the email including the head of advanced academics, the assistant principal, special education case manager, and his classroom teacher and said I did not want to opt-out my son but “again I would like to request that due to his diagnosed specific learning disability in written expression that he is able to take this test with a 'mark in booklet' type format where he does not have to fill out the scantron bubbles.” The response from the school was clear for the first time in my year and a half of asking.

My child would be able to take this test by circling his answers in the testing booklet. He would not have to fill in the bubbles.

Finally, I felt like he had a chance. My kid has ADHD, studying is not his strong point. Yet, he wanted to do well on this test. The week before the test, he did study a little bit and completed a practice test at home from a prep book I had bought. He didn’t do that well. We went over some of what he got wrong and why, but he also didn’t have a lot of patience for learning pre-Algebra topics he felt he hadn’t been covered at school yet. I did not have a high level of confidence that he would hit the 91% threshold.

Test day came. He came home from school and said he thought it was “pretty good” and “easier than the practice test.” As promised, they let him mark his answers right in the test booklet. I still don’t know who bubbled his answer sheet for him, but the school made it happen.

A month later, I was on a trip when I got a text from my husband that said, “Did you know this?” Next came a photo of a letter he had opened from the mail….

Photo of a letter saying that your child scored a 96% on the IAAT

96%. He got a 96% on the test and is in the pool for consideration for Algebra. I was elated. We were all elated. The best part is not that he can potentially be in that mathematics track.

The best part was how excited he was about his score and how proud of himself.

For a kid that struggles with writing and written assignments and often with school in general, to be one of the few students in his class to meet that goal was such a confidence boost. He was thrilled.

I wholeheartedly believe that he would not have gotten that score if he did not have the accommodation. I sent a thank you note to the entire group I had emailed about the test. I pointed out that we “really, truly appreciate it and also want to share the success story so that it potentially helps other kids with writing difficulties/dysgraphia get the same accommodation in the future."

My lessons learned for all of the other parents and guardians out there:

1) Believe in your kids, they can do it

2) Accommodations matter – fight for them, when the kids can’t

3) Shout it to the rooftops when they work: that’s how we will get them for more students


If you or your child have a success story you would like to share, email us at - the process is easy and we do not have to use your name(s).

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