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The Saratoga Falcon

The Learning Center helps ease testing for students with learning disabilities

Junior Alana Hess has always had a hard time focusing in class. Her mind wanders to amusing yet distracting thoughts, such as the happiness of Disneyland or the sights outside the window, unfortunately at the most inconvenient times, such as while taking her finals.
“I get distracted very easily, like when somebody is walking outside the window, I say, ‘Oh, who is it? Oh there’s a car! Look there’s a squirrel!’” Hess said.
Upon recommendation by her freshman biology teacher Lisa Cochrum, Hess was tested and diagnosed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at the end of her freshman year. After discussing her diagnosis with her counselor Frances Saiki, Hess became one of many students on campus who go to the Learning Center (TLC), a focused and peaceful learning environment located in a portable classroom in the back parking lot.
“For every test in any class I go to the TLC,” Hess said. “I get extra time, I can get tests read to me and it keeps me on track, so I don't get distracted,” Hess said.
Students admitted to the TLC are given access to extra help such as oral tests, extended time on tests and audio recordings of books in order to offset the disadvantage created by their disability.
Prior to her diagnosis, Hess struggled to finish tests on time due to her tendency to get distracted, finding herself having to guess on problems in order to turn in the test on time. She often was the last person to turn it in.
After joining the TLC, however, Hess noticed significant improvements in her ability to focus and succeed on tests.
“I don't feel pressured to finish by other people [finishing early]. I get my own time, it's really quiet, I’m in my own zone,” Hess said. “There are cubicles that I can go in where I don't get distracted by anything else.”
 
Admittance to the TLC
According to guidance counselor Eileen Allen, the TLC is designed for students with an Individualized Education Program, which determines that they have a learning disability that “bars them from fully accessing their education.” 
Students who attend the TLC may also have a 504 plan, a legal document specifying medical conditions that limit a student’s education. Although the number of students is something the school could not provide, those in charge have extensive procedures for admitting a student into the TLC.
For students who do not already have an IEP or 504 plan in place, the school begins the process with a “student study-team meeting” involving the guidance counselor, school psychologist, assistant principal Brian Safine, the student and his or her parents.
“We gather a lot of background information about the student; we talk about what exactly they are struggling with,” Allen said. “Sometimes we determine that with a doctor's note or with some testing that has been done, but there's typically a very long process that we go through to ensure that it is something the student really needs.”
In the case of Hess, she not only needed a doctor’s note, but teacher evaluations about her in-class behavior before being admitted to the TLC. The school psychologist, Michael Slone, added that the school conducts its own tests for learning disabilities on a case-by-case basis.
“Sometimes there are assessments done at our school as well that identify disability. It depends for each individual,” Slone said. “We have students with learning disabilities, attention deficits, medical issues [and] physical disabilities, so it's unique for each student depending on what their disability is.”
Despite these verified processes, Allen acknowledged that some people may desire admittance to the TLC even if they do not need it.
“It's not something that we pass around like candy. Not everybody needs it,” Allen said. “There are some people who seek those things out, just as an advantage, so we are very careful to analyze each and every detail on an individual basis.”
At the same time, Allen said that some students’ disabilities may not actually impair their access to education, further complicating the process.
“If a student comes in and says that [he or she] has ADHD but they have a 4.5 GPA, their ADHD is not causing them to not equally access their education,” Allen said.
Although the TLC has helped her, Hess said that it can sometimes be inconvenient to have to miss class in order to take a test in a different location.
 “[For example, some teachers have] us go to test first [in the TLC], and since we take longer, [they] would already have done notes,” Hess said. “It's sort of a disadvantage sometimes; it depends on the teacher. I will do better on my test, but then there's stuff to make up.”
However, other teachers leave extra time for students who need to go to the TLC and allow those who test in the normal allotted time to do their homework in that time, making it “good for everybody,” Hess said.
Regardless of the advantages or the disadvantages of the TLC, Allen said it can make a big difference for students who truly need it.
“[Students who go to the TLC] are still doing work just like anybody else, but just have access to tools that provide them access to education, in areas that they may not, due to what they may be personally experiencing,” Allen said.
 
 
 
 
 
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