Academic Accommodations: Information for Faculty



Academic Accommodations are gc[m]odifications of services, programs, and facilities to help persons with disabilities access the general education curriculum and validly demonstrate learningh ( Knox College provides academic accommodations to ensure all capable and talented students have the opportunity to achieve a Knox education. We have provided accommodations for decades in order to carry out our educational mission consistent with our antidiscrimination statement (gdisabilityh first appeared in the College Catalogfs anti-discrimination statement in 1978).@ During the past fifty years, federal laws and their amendments—and U.S. Department of Education regulations—have established criteria and definitions for disabilities and established standards for institutional responsibilities. The College has responded by developing protocols to assist both students with these needs and their faculty to meet our educational goals consistent with both our institutional commitments to anti-discrimination and the law.



Background: Our Recent Efforts to Support Students with Disabilities


Since 1997, the office that has now become the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has been charged with matters pertaining to the provision academic accommodations.@ At that time, less than ten students used the CTL to document and coordinate academic accommodations, and those who did generally sought help with what were then thought to be conditions related to dyslexia, a condition that impaired either or both the ability to read and write.@


However, in the years since that time, diagnosticians have gained both awareness of and facility in identifying issues pertaining to learning and possible impairments to it—and we have seen a concomitant rise in the number of students with learning disabilities coming not just to Knox but to all universities and colleges; this is a national trend. The National Center for Learning Disabilities reports that just over 10% of all college undergraduates experience a learning disability. If that report is accurate, and accurate regarding students at Knox, then we should expect approximately 10% of our undergraduates, or something like 140 of our students, to have a learning disability. Among this group, there will be some students who have a learning disability and donft know it, some who suspect they have a problem but have not pursued testing, some who have been tested and do know it, and some who have been tested and know it, but, for reasons personal to them, choose not to disclose it.@


This variation and lack of clarity provides challenges for all of us, but may be addressed, in part, by our understanding that when the CTL seeks to document a studentfs learning disability, we usually encounter one of the following student gtypes.h Faculty may find this information useful to formulating a response when a student approaches them for an accommodation.



Types of Students Seeking Academic Accommodations


Type One: Documented Disability

This student has made contact with the CTL and has provided us with actionable information. By actionable information, we mean information that is current, thorough, and instructive.@ t was provided by a qualified healthcare professional who used appropriate testing tools to ascertain the degree to which this student is experiencing a learning disability that impedes his/her ability to learn and/or communicate that learning.@ We can act upon this information to make accommodations with confidence, and have used it to communicate the studentfs needs to faculty members.


Type Two: Incomplete Documentation

This student has made contact with the CTL and has provided us with some information regarding a learning disability. However, the information is outdated and/or incomplete.@ We cannot ascertain the appropriate accommodation and have instructed the student to provide us with additional information. Until we have received information sufficient to determine the nature of the disability and the appropriate institutional response, this student should not receive accommodations. If he/she approaches faculty and asks for an accommodation, unless that request has been verified in email by the CTL, he/she should be directed to the CTL.


Type Three: Undocumented, but Possible Disability

This student has not made contact with the CTL. He/she may or may not have a learning disability and may or may not have received accommodations in the past. We just donft know.@ If this student approaches faculty and asks for an accommodation, he/she should be directed to the CTL and should not receive any accommodation until such time that the CTL indicates otherwise.


To address both the challenges and opportunities that students with learning disabilities represent, the CTL has reconfigured itself and now has a Learning Specialist, Stephanie Grimes, working in a dedicated position. Stephanie has advanced training specific for this work and more than 25 years of professional experience working in rehabilitation services.@ For anyone with questions, she is an excellent resource.



Procedures for Identifying Accommodations


To clarify the CTLfs role in support of students with learning disabilities, in June of 2011, the College adopted the following guidelines:


Internal Guidelines for Students Requesting Disability Accommodation


1.@ All requests for accommodation should be submitted to the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). The CTL Director and Learning Specialist are responsible for processing of the request.


2.     A student or admitted student with documented disability is responsible for (a) scheduling an appointment with either the CTL Director or Learning Specialist; and (b) providing appropriate professional documentation attesting to his/her disability.


3.     The CTL will evaluate the documentation. Documentation must be current (that is, three or less years old) and must explain fully (a) the means (diagnostic methodology) by which the disability was diagnosed, (b) the nature of the disability as described, (c) the way(s) in which it impedes access to the educational experience, and (d) the qualifications of the diagnostician. In cases where the Center for Teaching and Learning finds the documentation insufficient, the student will be responsible to provide additional documentation at his/her cost.@


4.     After meeting with the student and evaluating the documentation, the CTL will notify the student or admitted student of its findings. In cases of disability accommodation other than academic accommodation, the CTL will coordinate the accommodation request with the appropriate College office(s).


The CTL notifies instructors (and student advisors) of its determination of the need for academic accommodations and describes the appropriate types of accommodations. The CTL works closely with students receiving accommodations to ensure that they understand both the opportunities and limits provided by those accommodations and their personal responsibility in these situations.


Today, the Learning Specialist works with 60-80 students each term. For the most part, these are students who make common accommodation requests, things like extra time on quizzes, tests, and projects; extensions of time or due dates; use of a laptop or other device in class; and alternative formats for communicating learning. The CTL also serves another 10-15 students each term who use us for things like resource identification, learning literacy, counseling, and informal advising.@



An Emerging New Challenge: Autism-Aspergerfs


In the last few years, but especially in the last two years, the CTL has observed a rising number of students coming to Knox who are on what we call the Autism-Aspergerfs spectrum. This cohort of students often experiences Attention]deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a disorder characterized by chronic levels of inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity, and difficulties with executive functioning, a set of mental processes which help connect past experience with present action. Students with executive functioning deficits often struggle with things like making plans, keeping track of time, orienting themselves socially, multi-tasking, and reflecting on their work. They can become easily frustrated, act out, and even become aggressive.


These students represent a new challenge for all of us, and, during Fall Institute of this last year, the CTL offered its first forum for faculty to provide information about these students and to learn more about how they perform in their classes. It is our intent both to continue this conversation and to frame it, for the purposes of faculty development, in increasingly pedagogical terms. We also anticipate that accommodating this new cohort of students will provoke new and unanticipated concerns, but also provide opportunities for discussing appropriate responses. Meanwhile, if you ever have any concerns or questions regarding our students with learning disabilities, please feel free to contact the CTL staff and the Associate Dean for Faculty Development.