January 5, 2009
Grades and Disabilities
This is the time of the year when grades start coming in, and distraught students soon follow. There are numerous prior posts on dealing with the aftermath from fall grades; if you are new to ASP, I would suggest scrolling through the archives to find some of the wonderful, informative posts by the current and former blog editors.
When students land on your doorstep, please listen carefully to their stories. Many of their stories will sound the same. But listen for things you may not think are relevant; listen for signs of disabilities. My advice is two-fold; listen for disabilities the students may not have felt comfortable disclosing at the start of law school, and listen for signs that a student may need a referral to a specialist to be tested for learning disabilities. Disabilities may not be "handled" by your office, but ASP professionals are frequently the first ones to hear or see a problem. Don't assume the student knows where to go, or who to speak to, if your office doesn't handle the technical side of accommodations for students with disabilities. Find out where to refer students if you do not know. Students hit with the double whammy of lackluster grades and the possibility of a disability may be disoriented and overwhelmed; help them by having the relevant information on hand. Many times, it's as easy as googling your institutions website and searching for accommodations. Sometimes it will require a phone call to your Dean of Student Services.
Here is a short list of things to listen for in student meetings:
1) "My arm/leg/wrist fingers ached throughout the exam, so I just couldn't type/write fast enough. I broke my arm/leg/wrist last year, but it's all healed."
Many students think that they are done healing when the cast or brace comes off. In reality, it takes much longer for broken bones to heal, and they may need a temporary or permanent accommodation for exams if the break was within the year, or if it was a complex or multiple fracture.
2) "I think I had some special help when I was, like, in kindergarten or something, but I don't really remember. My parents said I was fine."
Red flags should go up when you hear a student mention accommodations or a diagnosed learning disability in the past. Law students are high achievers, and they may have found ways in the past to compensate for a deficit. Ask them to find any original paperwork if possible, and ask them to schedule additional testing with a specailist. Let them know that the law school is requesting the paperwork so they have a response if their parents balk at the request to dig up the past. Some parents have a hard time believing their high achieving, superstar daughter or son may be struggling with a learning disability.
3) "I am so ashamed. I am so stupid. I thought if I just worked more, it would be fine. When I worked really hard in college, I did fine, although I studied 60 hours a week and only carried 9 or 11 credits a semester. I had to put so much time into my classes in undergrad that it took me 5 years to graduate. But I only had three classes this semester, and I still did bad."
Students who had to work exceptionally, unusually hard in undergrad to achieve good grades can hit a wall when they get to law school. Listen carefully to their story; unusual amounts of work to achieve good grades in the past is a sign that the student may have an undiagnosed learning disability. The student worked exceptionally hard to compensate for a deficit, but the pace and nature of law school require more than extra hard work. These are the hardest students to refer to a specialist. I err on the side of referring a student when it seems unclear. It's better to over-refer than have a student academically dismissed because of an undiagnosed learning disability.
4) "My medication makes me sleepy all the time/keeps me up all night/makes me jittery and forgetful. I feel like I am always out-of-it. There is nothing I can do; I have to take medication X."
Send the student back to the prescribing doctor with instructions to get the side effects documented. Many prescription medications can make a 3 or 4 hour exam impossibly difficult. Small accommodations, such as a private testing room or short breaks, can make the exam manageable.
These are just four of the many stories you may hear after students receive fall grades. If you have a question, ask the person in charge of accommodations at your school. If you need more guidance than they can provide, check out professors at the school of education on your campus, if you have one. Many education professors are happy to help or provide recommendations if you ask. (RCF)
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