How The College Admissions Scandal Could Spell Trouble For Students With Disabilities
Advocates for students with disabilities are concerned that accommodations for college entrance exams could tighten in the wake of an admissions cheating scandal.
Last week, federal prosecutors indicted 50 people across the country for their roles in fraudulently seeking admission to elite colleges. One tactic those behind the scheme allegedly used was helping students fake learning disabilities so they could obtain special accommodations when taking the SAT or ACT. With accommodations of extra time or a private setting, the students’ answers were then corrected or someone else took the test for them, prosecutors said.
Now, disability advocates say they’re worried that the alleged use of disability accommodations in the cheating scandal could have consequences for students who truly need them.
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“The illegal activities of a few must not be used to hinder access for the nearly 7 million students with documented disabilities in our public schools,” said Denise Marshall, executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, or COPAA, in a statement. “The process for individuals legitimately striving to secure accommodations is already difficult; requiring substantial knowledge, patience and tenacity.”
In a statement, The College Board, which runs the SAT, said it “considers all reasonable requests for accommodations needed by students with documented disabilities.”
In some cases, documentation will be requested, but the vast majority of students who are approved for testing accommodations at their school through an individualized education program or 504 plan will have those same accommodations automatically approved for taking the SAT, the board statement said.
College Board spokesman Jerome White did not respond to questions about how common the requests are or if the testing company plans to change the procedures used for granting accommodations in light of the scandal.
Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said it can take nine months to a year for a student to receive approval for a requested accommodation, which could be extra time for a student with a reading or math disability, or taking the test alone for a student with ADHD who can’t tune out distractions.
“We have so much evidence that with the right accommodations and the right support, individuals with disabilities can achieve great outcomes,” she said.
Jones said the scandal highlights a myth that accommodations give students an advantage, when in fact they serve only to level the playing field so students with disabilities can demonstrate what they know.
“These are real brain-based issues and people shouldn’t feel embarrassed or intimidated to exercise their civil rights,” Jones said. “My fear is it will drive colleges and universities and testing companies to ask more and more questions and require more and more proof and be more and more skeptical of disability.”
The ACT’s guidelines, which cover a number of disabilities including autism, traumatic brain injury and psychiatric conditions, call for submitting the student’s IEP. If no accommodations have been provided in the past, the testing company asks for a detailed explanation as to why they are needed now.
Neither testing service reports to colleges that a student took the test with an accommodation.
According to court documents, the college consultant who pleaded guilty to masterminding the scam made public last week told a father that for $4,000 to $5,000 a psychologist would prepare a report requesting extra time for his daughter to take take either the SAT or ACT. Her answers could then be corrected by a proctor who would be bribed.
During a wiretapped conversation, the consultant, William Singer, told the father that for the evaluation his daughter should be “slow” and “not as bright” in order to qualify.
According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, people with learning disabilities have average to above-average intelligence and despite a neurobiological impairment, are capable of average to above-average achievement.