Disability Services in High School & College

Many students and families find it difficult to understand the differences between high school and college disability support services.  Overall, the responsibilities of the student and of the teaching institution are very different at the post-secondary level.  Here are some key points:

Philosophical Differences

At the high school level, disability related supports and services are usually designed to maximize a student’s potential.

At the post-secondary level, disability related accommodations are granted to create a “level playing field,” rather than to help a student reach his or her greatest potential. Often, the reason certain accommodation requests are not approved is that they go beyond the scope of this goal to change the learning requirements of the class for just one student.  In other words, college accommodations are intended to eliminate hurdles to student learning as related to his or her disability so that all students can academically compete as fairly with one and other as is reasonably possible.

Basic Federal Requirement 

The purpose of the IDEA (and the way disabilities under the law are defined) is to ensure students are successful relative to their own abilities in the K-12 system.  The ADA and Section 504 (and the way disabilities under the law are defined) provide a reasonable means to ensure student access to the same college environment as his or her peers. This “access” context leaves success in college up to the student.

Identification of a Disability 

At the high school level, the school is responsible for identifying students with disabilities, assessing those students, and providing them services as appropriate to their level of need. Students cannot be dismissed for poor academic performance. Performance standards must be designed to maximize student learning relative to his or her very individual potential.

At the post-secondary level, students self-identify with their Disability Support Office, and are responsible for providing appropriate documentation and assessments.

Documentation of a Disability

IEPs and 504 Plans provided in the K-12 system may not suffice as adequate documentation in a postsecondary institution.  Both IEP’s and 504 Plans are required under sections of laws that do not apply in post-secondary education (see ADA and 504 sections above). IEP’s and 504 Plans may be helpful to colleges, but are often insufficient as the sole form of documentation.

Communication with Parents 

At the high school level, part of a student’s plan may include mandated follow-up by school staff to inform parents of the student’s academic performance, completion of homework, etc.

At the post-secondary level, parents interested in their child’s academic progress must ask the student directly. Marymount may not, by law, share information about a student’s academic performance unless the student gives the college permission to do so.

Accommodation Arrangement 

At the high school level, a formal plan (IEP or 504 Plan) makes it the school’s responsibility to arrange for the student to receive disability related supports.

At the post-secondary level, each the student who is both registered with the Student Accessibility Office and approved to receive accommodations, must request his or her accommodations and communicate with whomever on campus may be charged with putting them into place.  For example, in order to use testing accommodations, the student must:

  • Provide his or her instructor with a letter detailing those accommodations (Faculty Contact Sheet)
  • Provide the Student Academic Hub with the dates and times on which he or she is approved to take exams
  • Participate in the arrangements for such accommodations

Student Access Services and the Student Academic Hub are not responsible for knowing a student’s schedule and/or arranging accommodations without some form of initiation from the student.

Services vary from college to college.  Students transferring from one post-secondary institution to another may experience differences in the level of service offered.  Any student with questions should contact Student Access Services at access@marymount.edu or (703) 284-1538.