In the News: Many More Students, Especially the Affluent, Get Extra Time to Take the SAT

Link to Wall Street JournalAn analysis by the Wall Street Journal finds that the number of high school students being given special allowances for test-taking, such as extra time, has surged in recent years.

Douglas Belkin, Jennifer Levitz, and Melissa Korn also report that “students in affluent areas such as Scarsdale, Weston and Newton are more likely than students elsewhere to get the fastest-growing type of these special allowances.”

They write:

Public high schools decide which students get a special designation like a 504 that puts them in line for more time. The schools may confer the designation in response to a request from a teacher or from a parent. Typically, a medical professional must assess a student and decide he or she has some condition such as anxiety or attention problems. In affluent communities, parents are more likely to know this option exists, and can pay for an outside evaluation if the school won’t.

The authors note that,

Special accommodations such as extra time and a separate room for test-taking were a part of this spring’s high-profile admissions-test scandal. But college counselor William “Rick” Singer has admitted he went much further by sometimes having an accomplice at the test center correct students’ answers, or bribing coaches to designate students as recruited athletes—techniques that amounted to fraud. By contrast, the rise in the number of students gaining school designations meant for those with learning problems reflects parents legally trying to give their children an edge.

Before 2002, testing companies would notify colleges when high school students took college admissions tests under specialized conditions, like being allowed extra time.

In a 2003 article for Education Next, Miriam Kurtzig Freedman explained how the College Board and the ACT came to the decision to end their practice of flagging (with an asterisk) the scores of test takers who had been allowed extra time.

In the article, “Defending the SAT: The College Board undermines its premier test,” Freedman wrote that once the alleged “stigma” of flagging was removed from score reports, increased use of the accommodation would be expected.

Now that there is no consequence for taking the SAT with extra time, so-called diagnosis shopping will undoubtedly become even more common among the well heeled, who can afford the private psychologists and pricey lawyers. And what’s to stop them? School districts certainly don’t have any incentive to limit the number of students who take the SAT with extended time, since higher scores look good to parents, taxpayers, and real estate agents. Who will be the gatekeepers?

— Education Next

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