Media of Ms. Farkas-Furniss provided by Alejandro Izurieta ’25
An hour might not seem like much time, but it can make all the difference in the stressful context of exams.
For some students, it is more than stressful. They have learning profiles that make time constraints on tests particularly difficult. Many members of the Grace community receive various testing accommodations. Some accommodations are only for specific subjects, like the use of a calculator for a math test, whereas others cover general testing circumstances, such as providing people with quiet rooms for their testing.
Grace has struck a healthy balance for all its students, but the general topic of testing accommodations has sparked controversy elsewhere.
Sammantha Farkas-Furniss, the learning specialist at Grace, shared some details about how Grace handles requests for accommodations. In order to get testing accommodations, students must have an “educational evaluation,” which Ms. Farkas-Furniss described as “a comprehensive group of assessments designed to illuminate strengths and challenges a student exhibits.”
Students who need testing accommodations receive a “Learning Profile,” a document that shows teachers which accommodations a student receives “so that they are able to perform at the same level as their peers.”
Based on their needs, students may be given “extended time, testing in a separate location, use of a laptop, and use of a calculator.” The number of students who receive extra time at Grace “roughly reflects our peer schools.”
Ms. Farkas-Furniss shared how “Grace is dedicated to supporting each student to become their best academic self. Our community prides itself on the many meaningful ways for our students to grow and mature as individuals.”
Grace also provides support for people without testing accommodations or learning profiles, but who still need assistance in balancing their work. Ms. Farkas-Furniss simultaneously acknowledged that, “at times, students do not use their accommodations appropriately.”
In the case that an accommodation is abused, it will be suspended. For example, if a student receives an accommodation to use their laptop for note taking or other specific instances, they cannot use their laptop for purposes aside from their accommodation.
Cassie B. ‘26, the co-leader of The Learning Difference Alliance Space, shared that she “think[s] that Grace does a great job at providing accommodations. I always get my extra time!”
Along with Iris J. ‘26, Cassie started The Learning Difference Alliance Space this year. Iris and Cassie “want the alliance space to be a place where people can dish out their emotions.”
One change that Grace implemented this year was the decision to give extra time only to students with learning profiles, rather than giving everyone in the class extra time. There were discussions between Robert Pennoyer, the head of the school; Saara Mahjouri, the assistant head; MiChelle Carpenter, assistant head of the high school; Lorry Perry, head of the high school division, and Ms. Farkas-Furniss.
Ms. Farkas-Furniss said that “while providing time and a half to all students felt like the right way to create educational equity, it actually created an imbalance.” There are many important decisions to be made in the Grace community surrounding accommodations and related issues, so, Ms. Farkas-Furniss said, there is a Guidance Team that meets weekly “to discuss students who are having a difficult time either academically, socially, or both.”
While providing extra time and other accommodations have not caused any controversies or concerns at Grace, they have proven contentious in other contexts. One area where extra time has sparked heated debate is its use in college admissions tests.
The College Board website states that “students should request extended time only if their disability causes them to work more slowly than other students.”
However, there are some instances where people have tried to gain extra time when they do not necessarily need it. According to a New York Times article, wealthier students received significantly more testing accommodations than students with less financial stability. In Mercer Island, Washington, the “median household income” is $137,000, whereas Federal Way, Washington’s is $65,000. The number of students in Mercer Way with accommodations is 14%, which is six times greater than that of Federal Way. In addition, some families use expensive private consultants for advice on college admissions, and those consultants have sometimes suggested that parents game the system by having their children feign problems to get diagnosed for learning differences and therefore get extra time for tests.
This issue can go both ways, as many students who need testing accommodations often do not have enough money to spend thousands of dollars to be tested for their learning differences. According to the New York Times article, one student even had to tailor her college application list for schools where SAT scores were not required because she was never able to get her needed testing accommodation. Ms. Farkas-Furniss described how Grace tries to prevent this, as Grace is “committed to providing access to all students, and we have a variety of ways to do so.”
As described by Ms. Farkas-Furniss, students at Grace “should feel confident they are in a learning environment that takes educational equity very seriously” and that every Grace teacher wants the very best for their students, so that they can be successful in “whatever that may look like for that student.”
Grace, in other words, makes time for everyone.