HELP Without Distractions

Program offers peaceful test-taking environment for learning disabled

Melissa K. Stephenson

Students with learning disabilities and attention-deficit disorder have found a peaceful sanctuary where they are able to take their exams free of all distractions.

The Higher Education for Learning Problems Program created a system in which students may have a secluded testing environment with a supervising tutor, Lynne M. Weston, director of the HELP program, said.

Students are allowed certain accommodations in the testing environment according to their individual needs, Weston said.

According to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, "a learning disabled student has a right to be tested in a manner that will indicate what he knows rather his handicap is. This is done by providing 'reasonable accommodations' in testing."

The federal guidelines include accommodations such as time extensions, isolation in a room without distractions, dictation to a scribe for essay responses and a calculator when applicable. Time extensions are generally double the time the student would be given in the classroom, Weston said.

Tutors administer exams to students and monitor them as they take the test. The tutors are monitored as well so professors can be confident students are doing the work, she said.

"We feel this is a very secure environment," Weston said.

The tests are kept under lock and key until the exam is taken. The program takes the exam process very seriously, Weston said.

"Most professors are very accommodating," she said.

"The program offers them the light at the end of the tunnel," Heather Kuhn, a graduate assistant and tutor for HELP, said. Kuhn was also involved in the program as an undergraduate.

Kuhn said she couldn't have graduated in four years and been as successful as she was without the help of the program. The program offers a support system that is difficult to find in other places, she said.

The HELP Program works with about 200 college students, as well as medical students, residents and physicians. The program also works with children grades kindergarten through 12th, as well as law students and attorneys. Before being admitted to the program, students are required to complete an application process. Individuals must be diagnosed with a learning disability or ADHD to be considered. They are also administered an IQ test, as well as an achievement test.

Evaluations help specialists determine the accommodations needed for each individual. For instance, Weston said if a student has ADHD, he or she may easily be distracted and may have problems concentrating. Therefore that individual may benefit from a secluded area to take an exam and more time to do so.

Any student who suspects he or she has a learning disability should contact HELP at (304) 696-6252.

Melissa K. Stephenson