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UI axes special testing for students with disabilities


By Katelyn Weisbrod

A reduction in service from University of Iowa Student Disability Services has some faculty speaking out against the office.

Student Disability Services used to let students who required special conditions for test-taking to take their exams in the SDS office, where an employee would proctor the exam and send it back to the instructor. Students with these needs have conditions ranging from learning disabilities to being blind or deaf.

However, this service was reduced at the beginning of the spring semester.

Now SDS no longer administers tests to students who qualify for reduced distractions and 50 percent additional testing time. SDS director Mark Harris said these are the easiest exams to proctor, since they do not require additional technology or scribes.

SDS ran out of space to accommodate for the 30 percent increase in the number of students using SDS resources, Harris said, especially during midterms and final exams week.

Some faculty members have said they’re upset with the cuts in service.

Blake Whitten, a lecturer in the Tippie College of Business, said he and other faculty do not have time to proctor the tests under special conditions themselves, and he does not want to have his teaching assistants take time out of their office hours to administer special exams.

“It’s a quality of education problem,” Whitten said. “The percentage of students getting this extra testing is increasing over time, that’s a trend that appears here to say, but the university decided to push it on to the faculty and colleges, and that’s not working.”

However, instructors have technically always been responsible to provide these accommodations. Harris said the SDS provision was intended to be a courtesy to the faculty.

“Something we were doing to help make faculty’s lives easier became seen as an entitlement, and all of a sudden we were no longer doing it,” Harris said. “It’s been a really small number of faculty members who’ve complained about that, the majority have been fine with it.”

Whitten, however, said he has heard many other faculty express their concerns, both in the Tippie College of Business and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The faculty were warned of the change in January, shortly after the decision was made.

“[The faculty] just can’t believe it. I’m not the only one who’s concerned about this.” Whitten said.

Whitten said he felt this was a poorly-timed change since it was in the middle of a school year, and he hopes it can be resolved by the fall semester.

Harris, however, does not see this changing anytime soon. He said to bring back the full service, SDS would require more space, and there are no plans in place currently to move SDS to a bigger space.

“I’m cautiously optimistic, but for the foreseeable future, this will remain in place,” Harris said.

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