New Testing Center to Help Students Needing Accommodations

Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Anya Parks

Taking tests stresses out most students. For Anya Parks ‘21, who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, standard test-taking puts her at an unfair disadvantage. A new campus testing center is designed to help students such as Parks, who receives testing accommodations, by providing a comfortable, minimally distractive setting to take course exams.     

The Duke Testing Center, which will open officially in January, is located at 041 Trent Hall, on the ground floor of the building bounded by Erwin Road, Trent Drive and Flowers Drive, across from the Nursing School. Summer renovations included the creation of two group testing rooms, four private testing rooms, a restroom and a reception area.  

Last year, Parks took her tests wherever her professors could find a room and a proctor. 

“(My professors) want me to succeed,” said Parks, who was diagnosed after she came to Duke and then registered with the Student Disability Access Office (SDAO).  “But I don’t think they always understand what ‘accommodations’ means. One asked me if it would be ok if I started my exam with everybody else and then moved to another room.  

“I felt comfortable saying that was not a good option, but there are others who would not. It’s stressful and a lot of students are already at a breaking point.”

"This center represents our strong institutional commitment to ensuring that all of our students have the opportunity to excel in their academic pursuits. We want all of our students to fell welcome, and we're focused on removing structural obstacles to their success." -- Gary Bennett

About 425 Duke undergraduates are registered for testing accommodations, according to Dot Mishoe, SDAO director.  These can range from providing extended time, or a distraction-reduced environment, to the use of assistive technology such as screen readers. The goal is to help level the playing field so that students with disabilities can demonstrate their true knowledge and skills in test situations.

“This center represents our strong institutional commitment to ensuring that all of our students have the opportunity to excel in their academic pursuits,” said Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education. “We want all of our students to feel welcome, and we’re focused on removing structural obstacles to their success.”  

Kimberly Bethea, director of the Academic Resource Center, a unit of the Office of Undergraduate Education, coordinated the opening of the new center, with center manager Jessica Farmer.

“We are very pleased that Duke made it a priority to create this center,” Bethea said. “Space is at a premium at Duke but this is a critical need for our students.”

Students whose professors have opted to use the center can schedule their exams in advance through an online system that that will inform professors of their request.  Faculty can go online to provide a copy of the exam to the testing center, and students will take the test in a proctored environment in the center.

The center makes things easier for professors, said Connel Fullenkamp, an economics professor and director of undergraduate studies, who has worked with Farmer and a group of his students this fall to pilot the center for the spring semester launch.   

“Over time, both the number of students needing accommodations and the variety of accommodations they need have increased,” Fullenkamp said. “It's become especially difficult for faculty teaching large courses to find the time and the space to provide students with the accommodations they're entitled to.  The Testing Center both provides a better testing experience for our students who are entitled to accommodations, and saves faculty a lot of time they now spend on making special testing arrangements themselves.” 

Parks is participating in the pilot program this fall and gives two thumbs up for the center, its staff and online registration.

“For a lot of really smart kids who go to Duke, they are hitting academic barriers for the first time,” Parks said. “The Testing Center will help raise awareness about learning differences and send the message you don’t have to be ashamed. You can get help.”

More information about the Testing Center is available on its website.

Photo at top: Anya Parks '21, left, is grateful for the creation of Duke's first testing center. She is with Whitney Bronson, the testing center coordinator.