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California suit directs testing company to accommodate disabled

Earlier this year, a California court ruled that a testing company must allow people with disabilities the use of special software to take standardized tests. The lawsuit was one of several similar suits filed in the U.S. last year, foreshadowing what is sure to be a hotly contested debate between testing companies and disability advocates.

Recently, this debate began to receive attention on a national level with the publication of a federal study that criticizes the Department of Justice for failing to enforce laws that provide special testing accommodations. The laws require people with disabilities such as partial or total blindness, dyslexia, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to be allowed the use of special software or testing environments when taking standardized tests such as the bar exam or SAT.

In the study, which was conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), investigators found that "almost all" of the nine private testing companies it studied did not change any of their testing practices to comply with new federal disability regulations. In addition, the study claims that the Department of Justice was not conducting the required reviews to ensure that the testing companies were in compliance with the disability regulations.

Now, GAO officials and federal lawmakers are asking the U.S. attorney general to implement periodic reviews of private testing companies to ensure that they are in compliance. They are also urging the attorney general to augment the Justice Department's review of complaints from disabled test-takers.

In response to the GAO study, testing companies are arguing that they must find a fair balance between students with and without disabilities, ensuring that no one gets an unfair advantage by requesting an accommodation they don't need. Certainly, this is a debate that is far from over.

Source: USA Today, "Study: Testing firms not complying with law on disabled," Mary Beth Marklein, Dec. 29, 2011

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