Weis, R., & Beauchemin, E. L. (2020). Are separate room test accommodations effective for college students with disabilities ? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education , 45 (5), 794–809. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2019.1702922

Journal Article
Weis, R., & Beauchemin, E. L. (2020). Are separate room test accommodations effective for college students with disabilities? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45(5), 794–809. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2019.1702922


Attention problem; Individual; Learning disabilities; No disability; Postsecondary; U.S. context





Separate rooms provided for individual test-takers during postsecondary Spanish language placement examinations were investigated. The traditional group administration of exams in a large room setting served as a source of performance data for comparison.


A total of 1,634 first-year undergraduate students, ages 17–20, attending a summer orientation program at a university in the Midwest (U.S.) participated. The summer orientation program was designed for students to get acquainted with campus before the school year began, as well as to take placement tests and to register for classes; study participants were completing the university's Spanish language placement exam. Data on participants' disability status and specific categories were collected after their random assignment to the accommodated or unaccommodated testing condition, and after completing their Spanish language placement exams. The participants without disabilities numbered 1,386, and the students with self-reported history of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or learning disabilities (LD) totaled 248, or about 15% of the total group. [Note: of the 15%, 8.2% (about 134) had ADHD only, 4.4% (about 72) had LD only, and 2.3% (about 38) had both ADHD and LD; the entire 248 students were addressed as a group, "ADHD and/or LD," rather than separately by each disability category.] Other demographic data were also reported, including sex (male/female), age (17–20), and race/ethnicity were also reported. Students with orthopedic disabilities, visual or hearing impairments, communication disorders, and autism were not participants.

Dependent Variable

Participants completed the Spanish language web-administered Computerized Adaptive Placement Exam (WebCAPE; Larson et al., 2014). Their scores were used to determine the level of the Spanish language course they would enroll in. After the placement exams, students were asked to complete a survey, which included questions about ADHD and/or learning disability diagnosis, whether they had received test accommodations, and whether they frequently experienced test anxiety. Test anxiety was described as "extreme nervousness, worry, memory loss, panic, and/or tension during examinations ... that negatively affects your test performance" (p. 800).


Preliminary analyses showed connections among participant identity characteristics, such as gender and ethnicity with disability status and with exam performance, efforts were made to control for gender and ethnicity in further analyses. Participants' self-reported test anxiety data showed that 600 of them endorsed experiencing test anxiety (37% of all participants) and 1,034 indicated that they did not; these data were different than the numbers for participants with and without disabilities. The participants—both those with and without disabilities—completing the exam in the group setting scored higher on average than the participants taking the exam in a separate room individually. Students without disabilities in the group exam administration condition performed essentially the same, on average, as students without disabilities in the separate individual administration condition. All participants without disabilities scored higher, on average, than all participants with disabilities (ADHD and/or LD), devoid of exam condition. Participants with and without disabilities had no significant mean score difference in the group exam condition; however, within the individual exam condition, participants with disabilities scored significantly lower on average than participants without disabilities. Finally, participants with disabilities scored significantly lower in the separate individual exam condition than participants with disabilities in the group exam condition. The implications of the effects of the separate individual exam condition were discussed in terms of the interaction hypothesis and the differential boost hypothesis. Finally, a separate analysis of the potential benefit of individual administration related to participants with test anxiety yielded that these students tended to score significantly lower than those without test anxiety, but that this was also the pattern in both group and individual exam conditions. The researchers indicated that test anxiety could have decreased performance; however, the researchers noted, "it is also possible that students who performed poorly on the examination might have been more likely to report test anxiety after its completion" (p. 804).