Do students use extended-time testing accommodations?

June 20, 2023

When middle school students with disabilities are given extended time to complete a standardized test, do they utilize it? Research led by the Michigan State University College of Education suggests: generally “no.”

“Extended time for testing has been repeatedly identified in research as the most common accommodation offered to students with disabilities. Many educators and psychologists believe it can help those with disabilities better show what they know,” said Associate Professor Sara Witmer. “To date, relatively little research has explored whether and how students actually use it in an authentic test situation.”

Associate Professor Sara Witmer.
Associate Professor Sara Witmer

Witmer led a study examining data from the 2017 National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP) 8th-grade mathematics test to gauge extended time usage and effect. It was the first study to examine predictors and correlates of extended time use in a K-12 setting.

The 2017 test was also the first time the NAEP was administered on tablet devices, allowing for better recording of process data — or time-stamped information of students’ actions during testing. Approximately 10% of all NAEP test-takers were students with disabilities. Nearly 60% of that group were eligible for extended time — but only 28.7% used it.

A young student takes a test with her classmates.


Findings, verbatim from the study, also included:

  • Girls with IEPs [individualized education plans] were more likely than boys with IEPs to be eligible for extended time; however, gender did not relate to actual use.
  • Students receiving free or reduced-price lunch were more likely than their peers to be eligible, but not significantly more likely to use.
  • Black and Hispanic students were more likely than other racial groups to be eligible, but not more likely to use.

Interestingly, those who used additional time performed “significantly” better, according to researchers. Ben Lovett (Teachers College, Columbia University) and Heather Buzick (Educational Testing Service) were co-authors of the 2023 Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment article.

The study also found stark contrasts to previous research in other testing contexts.

For example, researchers found substantially fewer students utilized the extended time than comparable studies with post-secondary students.

“Our findings indicated students from low income backgrounds tend to have greater access to extended time,” Witmer continued. “This is in contrast to college entrance testing data, in which students from high income backgrounds are reported to have greater access to extended time.”

The results of the study illuminate other questions for Witmer and her colleagues. Among the areas Witmer plans to examine: continuing to use NAEP data to explore how students use extended time.