I remember a while back when I was working at a previous workplace, I entered the coffee lounge and heard two work colleagues talking about the injustice of giving students additional exam time. They raised the issue that many students are abusing this “benefit” unjustly. I remember how I impolitely interrupted their conversation stating that what they just said was complete nonsense and explained that denying students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia extra exam time was simply unjust and reflected the general’s public general ignorance on these topics. They of course lacked the ardor that I demonstrated in this discussion and soon enough retreated back to their offices.

IF only these students would work harder they would not need this extra time?

BUT so many students are abusing this extra time loop hole to get improved testing conditions?

My work colleagues were not malicious, dyslexia-phobic people… they simply were quite ignorant to what people with Reading and Writing disabilities experience and did not have the understanding that providing this extra exam time for people with dyslexia can make a real difference between Success or Failure.

“Just as a diabetic requires insulin, an individual who is hearing impaired requires a hearing aid, a man or woman who is a quadriplegic requires a wheelchair, a person who is dyslexic has a profound physiological need for additional time to complete examinations.” – http://dyslexia.yale.edu/Policy_WhyChange.html

Dyslexia is a physiological condition that people are born with. Special learning techniques, together with hard word and special reading and writing assistive technology can ensure that a dyslexic student succeed in both education and his workplace. However, the fact remains that for most dyslexics Reading and Writing will always be more difficult and time-consuming then non-dyslexics. The objectives of examinations are to test the intelligence and knowledge of the examinee on a specific topic. The objective is not to test the speed at which he reads the questions and writes the answers.

Regarding the claim that there are non-dyslexics that abuse this extra time for exams policy, there are 2 replies that I wish to make:

  1. “Data now demonstrate that it is only students who are dyslexic who benefit from additional time. Thus, such college students increase their scores substantially (e.g., 13th percentile to 76th percentile), while typical readers when given extra time on exams increase their scores few to no points (82nd percentile to 83rd percentile).*” – this is taken from Yale’s University website. This research demonstrates that people who really do not have a real difficulty in Reading and Writing will not gain real benefits with the extra time allocated to exams.
  2. So if everybody cheated in a test, should someone who did not cheat be punished too? The obvious answer is NO. By getting additional exam time, the dyslexic student is simply getting equivalent testing conditions as other students. He is not cheating the system. If other students are supposedly “cheating the system”, then let the system take responsibility to stop this cheating without punishing the ones who deserve this benefit; and the system should do so without making the person with dyslexia feel subconscious about getting the benefit he justifiably deserves…

So was I rude when I interrupted my work colleagues’ conversation and loudly stated their ignorance on this topic, perhaps. But it is time to loudly state the rights of the dyslexic community and to educate the public regarding what is dyslexia and what must be done in order to enable dyslexics to fully and hopefully easily integrate into society… and this definitely includes GETTING EXTRA EXAM TIME.

* M. K. Runyan, The Effects of Extratime. In S. Shaywitz & B. Shaywitz, eds., Attention Deficit Disorder Comes of Age: Toward the 21st Century; Austin, Texas: Pro-Ed, 1992.

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3 thoughts on “No Ifs or Buts – Dyslexics Deserve Extra Exam Time

  • August 6, 2009 at 9:46 am

    I’m a 70-year-old dyslexic who didn’t realize I was a 0ne until I was in my sixties. I keenly remember never finishing any timed test and thxi frustration and humilliation it caused, and the many tests I was the last one to walk out. I strongly agree with you. Since I learned of my condition, I often wonder how different my live could have or would have been if only given a little more time. Don’t get me wrong, I have accomplished everything I sat out to do in my live, one of the good traits of dyslexics. And my spelling is emproving. I left them in this piece to demonstrate. ten years ago, there would have been three times as many errors.

  • September 15, 2009 at 4:28 am

    First, what a great blog! Thanks for sharing your experience and research.

    Rude or not I applaud your advocacy work on behalf of dyslexia. My story is almost the reverse of Ray. I was lucky to have attended an elementary school outside of Washington D.C. near the National Institute of Health for second – fourth grade. Even in the 1980s they were on top of things at Ayrlawn Elementary. Because of their forward thinking my dyslexia was caught very early on providing me with the skills I needed to exercise my intellect as an A student through college. My dyslexia was detected when my in class skills and IQ test were off the carts in everything but reading, handwriting, math, and multiple choice tests.

    Yes reading was and is time consuming. Yes by college numerous states and countries around the world passed something similar to the American Disabilities act which allowed me not only more testing time, but on multiple choice tests the ability to ask questions. Dyslexics often having a 360 degree ability in dissecting questions especially on multiple choice tests. In some questions I could easily explain why due to wording or reasoning ultimately all or in some cases none of the multiple choice answers worked. In some cases my college professors appreciated what others saw as a handicap and asked me to take multiple choice tests before the class to use me as their clarity sounding board. And others well they were frustrated.

    I have found my dyslexia an invaluable gift in my work as a consultant. I owe significant gratitude to people like you who spoke up for me, helping me were I needed the help and encouraging me were I excelled. Without that (and spell check!) I would have likely been written off, believing and self fulfilling the statements of those who thought I would not amount to much. A statement that is never true for anyone. We all have our talents, but as long as we compare each other to this absurd idea of “normal” we will continue to punish and shun those with more unique skills we are not yet advanced enough to recognize as valuable.

    As an adult I found another source of inspiration in the book The Gift of Dyslexia. Years ago I wrote a short article about the book and my personal experiences with dyslexia http://www.linezine.com/5.3/themes/reallykshihd.htm

    Today I am a long-time entrepreneur, small business owner, and published writer. See, the encouragement and cajoling educators and others to reconsider dyslexia really does make a difference!

    The work of those, like you, who recognize the challenge and genius of dyslexia spur us on! Thank you.

  • September 10, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    I disagree with the idea that dyslexics should get extra time in exams.

    Exams should measure the actual performance of the person, not some idealised measure of what is fair. If it is important to do a task quickly then everyone should get the same amount of time to do the exam, and if that means that dyslexic people get poorer marks then that presumably reflects the fact that they would not be as good at that task in the real world. That is a shame, but everybody can’t be equally good at everything, and they should find a task where time is not as important.

    Exams are supposed to be a reflection of ability that have real world relevance. In the real world, it is sometimes necessary to be able to perform a task quickly. If writing an exam style essay was part of somebody’s job, being able to do it quickly would make them a more productive worker, so it is fair that the ability to work quickly is reflected in that person’s exam scores.

    Having said all of that, I think that for the majority of tasks the time taken is NOT a crucial factor and so the fairest thing would be to remove time limits on most exams for everybody. Otherwise the situation is that people at the slow end of normal are the only ones who suffer from not having enough time, and that is just as much a part of natural ability range as dyslexia.

    The fact that only a small number of people without dyslexia (according to the Yale study quoted) benefit from having extra time does not change the fact that these people are being disadvantaged because they will be scoring less than dyslexics who are getting extra time, even though in a direct comparison on a level playing field they would perform better at the task being assessed.

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