New center helps open doors

A new testing center with larger rooms, magnified televisions and computers and greater accessibility will make testing easier and more manageable for students with disabilities who use the center, staff members say.

A new testing center with larger rooms, magnified televisions and computers and greater accessibility will make testing easier and more manageable for students with disabilities who use the center, staff members say.

The center was created to provide students with disabilities or students who needed to make up a test with additional assistance on testing, if necessary, and a quiet environment. In past years, students with disabilities or students who needed to take a make-up exam would report to the Disability Resource Center (DRC) for testing, where often times the environment was loud or private rooms were not available, said Dan Fortmiller, interim vice provost for Student Affairs.

The new testing facility is housed on the third floor of the Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) in Room 320, and includes five private testing rooms and one larger room with individual cubicles designed for students who prefer a less sizeable testing environment than most classrooms offer. Mardie McIlmoyl, the office specialist at the DRC, described the old center as “crowded” and “not ideal.”

The remodeled testing facility in SHAC was budgeted out of salary savings available because of faculty positions remaining vacant. The remodel totaled $106,000 (only $101,000 was used), Fortmiller said.

“We had students who were testing spread out throughout Smith Center,” Fortmiller said. “The lounge on the fourth floor of Smith Center was even used. But sometimes the Popular Music Board would hold shows in the Park Blocks and it was too loud for students trying to take tests.”

Fortmiller said it was important to consolidate student testing into one location because the university has legal and ethical obligations to provide adequate space for students with disabilities to test.

“We just grew too big, as far as student population, not to have a larger testing facility,” Fortmiller said. “We are pleased to have the new testing center.”

A key part of the full-fledged renovation during this past summer was properly equipping each of the rooms in the testing facility.

In the five private testing rooms, there is a closed-circuit television unit that magnifies images and alters color contrast and incandescent light bulbs for visually impaired students. Rooms are wheelchair accessible and provide sufficient space for readers or scribes to assist students.

Heather Goah, accommodated testing coordinator, said that there are five spots for students to act as either scribes or readers. The preference is for graduate students to fill the positions because undergraduates may be given unnecessary access to exams that they are required to take for a class, Goah said. But due to funding for only three-quarters of a position, the majority are currently undergraduates.

The larger communal room offers private cubicles and earmuffs to reduce potential distractions. Another feature is adjustable tables to accommodate students and ensure they are comfortable while taking their exam. Four laptops with zoom-text and voice recognition software are also available.

Diane Smith, assistant director of SHAC testing office, said that most furniture, such as chairs, tables and cabinets, in the new facility is being reused from the dental office because of insufficient funding. Ergonomic chairs are used throughout the facility.

Smith said 864 students utilized testing services at Portland State last year, and she expects a 20 percent increase in use of the testing center during the upcoming year.

“I would really like to encourage students to come and look at the space,” Goad said. “It will make them more comfortable and they will have less anxiety if they know what it looks like.”

Former Disability Advocacy Cultural Association (DACA) coordinator Michael Malinowski said he thinks the new testing center in SHAC is too small, and the restrictions on break time and approved writing utensils is too strict.

“They have the restrictions because they want students to adhere to the integrity of the test,” Malinowski said. “But this puts students under more stress and then students are less likely to be successful.”

In order to take exams at the testing center, students must first provide documentation from a medical professional to DRC. Polly Livingston, assistant director of DRC, then reviews the documentation and either approves the request for accommodation or requests additional information.

Approved students then have an intake interview with a counselor to discuss accommodations. After this point, the students are given a letter to present to professors describing necessary testing accommodations. This letter explains to professors how to send tests to SHAC.

For additional information about using the testing facilities, call the DRC at 503-725-4150, e-mail them at [email protected] or visit