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How This Standardized Test Failed to Accommodate My Hearing Loss

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For as long as I remember, I have always disliked taking tests. I felt they did not represent how much I knew about a subject. My dislike for tests only increased after I took the Advanced Placement French exam my senior year of high school.

I was always a strong performer in my high school French class, where I won awards every year for my work and dedication to the subject. It seemed like an easy decision to take the Advanced Placement French class my senior year to prepare for the exam.

When I was younger, my school actually discouraged me from taking foreign language classes due to my disability. I was born with a mild to moderate hearing loss, and I had to fight back against misconceptions that people with hearing loss are not capable of learning various spoken languages.

Due to my strong grades in French courses, I felt like I had nothing to worry about before I started the course. Then came the listening sections. To give some background, even though I was born with my hearing loss, it was not diagnosed until I was 5 years old. During this time, I learned how to read lips. Even now, I feel overwhelmed when I’m not able to see someone’s face when they’re talking, as I’ve gotten so used to reading people’s lips as a guide.

All my French teachers in high school accommodated my hearing loss on exams. They all gave me the option to meet with them at a separate time so they could read the audio aloud. I always tell my teachers at the beginning of the year that I read lips, so they agreed this accommodation would be suitable. I’m glad they did this, but it should be the norm everywhere, including on standardized tests.

For the listening section of the AP French exam, there was only audio. I applied for accommodations for all College Board exams for this disability and my anxiety, but they did not offer what I needed. College Board granted me extended time on its exams, including the AP French exam, but I felt extremely let down.

Being granted more time does not help me understand audio more clearly. I was able to adjust the volume on my headphones to make the audio louder, but that was it.

If College Board actually wanted to accommodate my hearing loss, there are various avenues they could have tried. They could have given the examiner the transcript and had them read the dialogue to me, or prepared a pre-taped video of the dialogue.

On the day I took that exam, I was stressed out beyond belief. Besides having a hearing loss, I had recently been in a car accident and had a concussion, which resulted in me having ringing in my ears. Just my luck, right?

The listening section is, or at least it was in 2016, the first part of the AP French exam. I found that I understood more than half of what was going on, but I grew extremely frustrated, especially during the last listening exercise, where the speaker was both speaking very quickly and in a soft tone. I have severe testing anxiety in general, so the stress of not being able to understand all the audio made my heart race, and I started to quickly think I was going to fail this exam. I was going to let myself down.

Fortunately, this was all just worry, and I did well. However, I should have been better accommodated for this exam. I have to put in much more effort than a lot of other people who are taking this exam just to understand what’s happening. I should not have been put in this position.

College Board really needs to better accommodate students with hearing loss and disabilities in general. I understand that my disability is not common for someone my age, but this does not mean I should not receive the support I deserve.

Getty image by noipornpan 

Originally published: December 12, 2018
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