Helping Struggling Students:
Learning Needs and Evaluation Center Services
Allison Anderson, LNEC Interim Director
Professor Variable is irritated. As he looks out over his intro calculus course, he notices that Marcy Student has drifted off again. Just yesterday she was in his office, asking for extra help, telling him she was really trying, begging to be allowed to turn in an assignment late. When he talks to her, Marcy really does seem like a smart person. One on one, she seems to understand him quickly and to be able to do the work. But in class, just like right now, she often stares out the window, falls asleep, or pesters the person next to her. The work she turns in is disorganized and careless. Mr. Variable gave her the extra time she had asked for when she was in his office the day before, but he is starting to wonder if he is being played for a fool.
Professor Variable's experience, though fictitious, represents what can happen when a student with a previously undiagnosed learning or attentional disorder comes to the University. As Mr. Variable struggles to understand Marcys behavior, he might not consider a disability because of Marcy's age. Many students who are diagnosed with a learning or attentional disorder are evaluated in grade or high school. Variable might believe that if Marcy had a problem like that, it would have been caught long before she sat in his calculus class. Consequently, the professor might turn to other explanations: she is lazy, unmotivated, or trying to get away with something.
Though learning problems are often diagnosed early, a variety of factors can leave them undetected until students reach college. Some students, including many who attend U.Va., are very bright. They learn to compensate for their weak areas; they can be so successful at finding alternate routes to good grades that they may even have achieved various academic honors. Other students avoid subjects that present particular problems. Their high school programs or informal support systems enabled them to skate by in trouble areas while succeeding in others. College sometimes represents a personal threshold, where academic demands overwhelm compensatory strategies, and the student begins to fail. This can affect self esteem, and may lead to depression and anxiety, which further exacerbate the academic difficulties.
Luckily, teaching professionals don't need to be experts in all the possible trouble signs of a learning or attentional disorder. All they need to notice is that a student appears to be struggling and is looking around for help. The Learning Needs and Evaluation Center (LNEC), a part of Counseling and Psychological Services, is available to help students evaluate the source of persistent academic difficulties. Students can be referred for screenings, which take a "snapshot" of intellectual, academic, and emotional functioning that may suggest treatment or further testing. The LNEC also determines eligibility for accommodations for diagnosed physical, psychiatric, learning, or attentional disorders. After working with the student to decide which accommodations will best address the issue, the LNEC provides letters explaining to faculty the accommodations for which the student has been approved.
Accommodations don't have to be a headache, nor should they change basic course requirements. They are designed to give an individual with a disability the same opportunity to succeed as other students. Typical accommodations include priority scheduling, extended examination time, text enlargement, preferential seating, tape-recorded classes, acceptance of unpredicted absences, written handouts or lists of terms, scribes, readers, and negotiated extensions for assignments. In addition, the LNEC manages a comprehensive network of volunteers who record textbooks for students who are visually impaired or dyslexic. The Center facilitates a peer notetaking program and provides American Sign Language, Cued Speech, and Computer Assisted Real Time Transcription services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some of these accommodations are handled entirely by the LNEC, while others require faculty/instructor involvement. For example, the LNEC can arrange to have all of a student's textbooks put on audio tape while the professor discusses examination procedures with the student. A particular accommodation can be handled in a variety of ways, according to what works best for instructor and student. In the case of extended time for exams, for instance, a faculty member might choose to invoke the honor system and have the student take tests elsewhere. If that doesn't seem appropriate, the professor might arrange for the student to take the exam in a departmental office, or to simply stay in the usual classroom for extra time after the rest of the class finishes. If the parties have difficulty working out an agreement, the LNEC is available to help find a solution. University instructors should not hesitate to contact the LNEC if they believe a student could benefit from Center services, which are free.
The LNEC is
located in the Elson Student Health Center at 400 Brandon Avenue and can
be reached by phone at 243 5180 or e-mail at LNEC@virginia.edu.