The college admissions process is hard enough for students who don’t struggle with a learning disability but all the more difficult for students who do. Here is a test that parents can give to their children who have learning disabilities to see if they are ready to go to college. It was written by Rachel Masson, director of admissions at Landmark College, a Putney, Vt., institution that offers integrated approaches for learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
By Rachel Masson
Colleges and universities offer varying levels of support for students who learn differently. Then there are colleges like mine, which provides comprehensive, integrated learning strategies for students with learning issues including ADHD, dyslexia and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
How are parents to know what level of support their child needs, and what college would offer that support?
Landmark College has developed a simple tool that parents and students can use that measures how well they perform in five areas essential to college success. There are five questions in each area.
The first area is academic skills. Can your child read up to 200 pages in a week? Does he have a system for taking notes? Can she write a 10-page paper with two or more sources? How does he prepare for tests? Can she clearly summarize a college-level reading assignment?
Scoring below three in this area indicates that a student would benefit from explicit instruction. Further testing can help identify specific skills needing development. The goal is enabling the student to work independently in college.
The second area is self-understanding. Can your child describe his diagnosis of a learning disability? Has he read his psycho-educational testing? Does she know her academic strengths? Does he know which academic tasks give him the most difficulty? Can she identify the academic supports she needs?
If a student scores lower than three in self-understanding, he or she may benefit from understanding more deeply how he/she learns. A psychologist or neuropsychologist can test them and explain the results not only to them, but also to their professors and advisors.
Next is self-advocacy. Does your child know his legal rights as an LD student? Does she have no hesitation in asking for help when she runs into difficulty? Is he comfortable scheduling his own appointments with doctors, advisers and counselors? Does she need to have access to her psychoeducational testing? Would he readily contest his college’s refusal to provide an appropriate accommodation?
Scoring less than three in self-advocacy means the student would benefit from instruction in the laws and regulations regarding individuals with disabilities and higher education. College students are adults; they cannot be compelled to use services and accommodations and so must advocate for themselves. We require first-semester students to study these laws.
Executive function skills are critically important in college. Does your child have a system for keeping track of projects, books and papers? A system for managing time? Is he able to block out difficulties and focus on the task at hand? Is she able to complete assignments on time? Does he have a strategy for doing work that he finds boring?
A score below three in executive function skills suggests that a student would benefit from practicing systems and techniques to improve self-management, time management and organization.
Last but certainly not least, parents should understand how motivated and confident their child is. Does she find an academic subject interesting? Does he know what he wants to get out of her first year in college? Does he believe he can succeed? Is she excited about what she will do in college? Can he imagine his life in 10 years?
Scoring below three in motivation and confidence tells us that a student cannot clearly visualize completing a college education. College students who would rather be somewhere else — working for a living, attending trade or technical school, pursuing dreams such as sailing around the world — are unlikely to take advantage of the resources necessary to complete a college degree. Furthermore, students who do not believe they are capable of doing the required work are likely to give up, even skipping classes or finals.
For many students, engaging in studies at the level needed for college involves a constant struggle with self-doubt and insecurity. We know the best antidote is success, but many students need a great deal of encouragement to complete that first semester. Academic coaches can often help these students visualize success.
These five foundational areas are more important and informative than an overall percentile. But if your student scores 80 percent or higher overall, he or she most likely will succeed independently in a traditional college setting.
Here is something all parents in America with children with an LD should know—more than half of the students at Landmark transfer here after struggling at some of the best institutions in the country. Making the right choice in the beginning can save these students and their families a lot of emotional and financial pain.
(Note: An earlier version of this post did not have a link to the test.)