Disabling tests

In affluent areas, many more students with poorly defined learning disabilities are boosting their scores by taking untimed SAT tests, writes Arthur Allen in Slate.

Nationwide, only 2 percent of students who have taken the SAT over the past 10 years have done so untimed. Most of these students’ diagnoses are presumably genuine. But in places like Greenwich, Conn., and certain zip codes of New York City and Los Angeles, the percentage of untimed test-taking is said to be close to 50 percent.

The number is going up as the SATs no longer flag untimed scores sent to colleges.

Despite threats of lawsuits, the (Association of American Medical Colleges) has refused to stop flagging results from untimed MCATs. Research led by the director of the MCAT, Ellen Julian, has shown both that MCAT test results are good predictors of medical-college performance, and that time extensions, on average, improve scores. Medical practice, of course, does not generally allow the luxury of time. “We think people with the ability to work speedily and efficiently will do better in medical school and as doctors,” Julian says.

Being able to work quickly and under pressure surely correlates with success in many fields.

About Joanne


  1. I hope the MCAT folk don’t cave.

  2. Prof210 says:

    It seems to me that, for many students, taking extra time merely encourages them to “overthink” their answers and may actually lower scores. I would argue that students should take practice SAT tests at home both timed and untimed and see if they do better with more time before seeking to be “classified” so as to be allowed more time.

  3. mike from oregon says:

    In my job (which many would be critical of) – I arrive at a job site (construction) jump out of my truck and have to look at something that a concrete truck is waiting to cover with it’s load. I have to make sure the various clearances are correct, the spacing of rebar is correct, the size of rebar is correct – and do it fast as the concrete is working even as I’m checking. There are work arounds, we learn to look first, go check the plans, ensure the plans match what you saw so they can start the pour at that point while you look at the plans and check the rest of the setup before the concrete gets there. It can quite often be a “think on your feet” type of job, with literally no time allowed. Most folks don’t think about that type of job, and often don’t associate it with having to ‘think fast’ – but all too often you simply aren’t given the time.

    BTW – if they can’t or won’t wait for you, then they get written up as a violation. In some cases the contractor has been forced to jackhammer the entire pour out so it can be done right and to specifications.

  4. Fatherofyoungones says:

    I have always been critical of accomodations for test-taking. I would be willing to concede the extreme cases that have been critically revieved and deemed necessary, but in general I oppose the idea of changing the evaluation parameters for students.

    Education is taking a step away from its mission to equip the students for integration into the real world by making accomodations. As a previous commenter observed, in real life there is no additional time given to the particular individual.

    I have often asked undergraduates a hypothetical about low grades and medical/law students. Your child is facing life-saving surgery. How many times should the AMA allow your child’s doctor to retake the MCAT-medical boards-etc…? You are falsely accused of a heinous crime. Your attorney based the bar only because the ABA mandated accomodations for him/her. You get the point.

    No one in their right mind is arguing against tests in braille for students with vision-impairments. But the accomodations game has eroded the ability of the education community to do its primary job.

  5. Richard Nieporent says:

    This is just another triumph for the ADA. Actually I am surprised that they even make them take the test. Clearly the only fair thing to do for these “learning disabled” students is to automatically give that a 1600 on the SATs. Otherwise we would be discriminating against them.

  6. Allen gets it wrong on several counts. One is taking as fact the urban legend that many, many rich kids are getting undeserved accomodations. If anything, many more kids with documented issues (disabilities, if you will), are being turned down by the College Board.

    Another is the idea that 2% is the “right” percentage for accomodations. Nobody knows the “right” percentage, but it is probably closer to 5-7%, given the incidence of specific reading disability in the general population.

    Contrary to Allen’s assertion, SATs, SAT-IIs, and APs are not taken “untimed”. Students with documented learning disablities (btw, not “vaguely defined”) are granted time-and-a-half, or much more rarely, double-time. And the time limitations are observed as strictly as those for the regular tests. In other words, if a section is timed for 30 minutes, the time-and-a-half accomodation is exactly 45 minutes. I’m not exactly sure the only timing difference is that there is one more 1 minute break.

    Have you, Joanne, or any of your commenters actually gone through the documentation process the College Board demands? It is daunting — for the student (the types of testing demanded), the parent (for managing the documentation) and for the school (also requiring detailed documentation). The school must certify that the student, in the course of the normal school day, uses the accomodations (extra time, computer use for note taking/composition, etc) requested of the College Board.

    Mike from Oregon and Fatherofyoungones, high school is the last time in a student’s life that she is required to be a generalist–to excel in all forms of intellectual endeavor. Mike, I understand construction–a kid who is a deep, slow, careful thinker is unlikely to be drawn to the type of work you do. Fatherofyoungones, “in real life there is no additional time given”…haven’t you ever had your banker or your accountant say, “Let me think about that and get back to you?” Very little of adult life requires the kind of thinking and responsiveness represented by the SAT testing.

    And Joanne–how many drafts and revisions did you go through on the book, or for that matter, your columns? How does the SAT writing requirement accurately reflect the real process of writing for publication?

    I’m not arguing for alternative forms of assessment. For better or worse, we’re stuck with the kinds of large-scale, machine-scoreable tests such as the SAT. I am arguing that such tests are not accurate representations of real-world tasks, and that allowing accomodations for children with documented learning disabilities is an approximation of fairness.

    I leave you with the words of Ronald Arky, M.D., from the 2005 Shattuck Lecture

    My experience with medical students during the past 18 years has included a number of surprises related to learning disorders. Dyslexia and attention disorders that come to the fore when students are challenged by the stresses of clerkship and board examination are not exceptional, although the efforts whereby these students have previously compensated for their disabilities are extraordinary. Most striking has been a small group of students who have earned such kudos as Rhodes Scholarships, election to honorary societies, and the highest awards for undergraduate studies yet who have difficulty taking standardized examinations. Both short-term and long-term learning and memory may be intact in these students, but they have not developed the ability to integrate and apply their knowledge in the highly structured environment of complex multiple-choice examinations. How this lack of development influences their ability to function as physicians is not known.

  7. Except, that writing a blog or a newspaper story, designing a bridge or flying an airplane aren’t tests. Those activities aren’t measures of ability, they’re an exercise of ability. A test would be administered to determine the ability to perform the activity without the responsibility or resource use or danger of performing the activity.

    If you were having people over for dinner and bought one pound of burger instead of two pounds, putting the burger on an inaccurate scale wouldn’t cause the burger to magically acquire the ability to feed all your guests. You still wouldn’t have enough burger to feed your guests.

    Similarly, the test doesn’t create the ability to efficiently make use of the limited resource of slots in the freshman class of a first-class college, it just measures the likelihood that the test-taker may make use of a slot in the freshman class.

    Your quote…:

    Most striking has been a small group of students who have earned such kudos as Rhodes Scholarships, election to honorary societies, and the highest awards for undergraduate studies yet who have difficulty taking standardized examinations.

    …doesn’t invalidate of the idea of a testing standard as much as point out the inaccuracy of the test.

    Do a large group of students who take the test go on to become Rhodes scholars, get elected to honorary societies and get high awards for undergraduate studies? Then the accuracy of the test is questionable, time to fix it up. At some point though you have to accept the test as good enough and that the test identifies the students who aren’t good enough with an acceptable degree of accuracy.

  8. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    The problem is not so much the fact that extra time is being given… it is that extra time is being given to some and not others, and that there is no longer a way of discriminating between the two categories.

    If we want to criticize the test on the grounds that it doesn’t measure what it wants to measure, go ahead. but the fact is that when we are comparing someone who took it in time-and-a-half against someone who took it in time-flat, then we are comparing apples to oranges: it is a completely different performance measurement.

    By removing the “footnote” that indicates extra time taken, we are preventing people from accurately understanding what exactly it is they are looking at when they attempt to interpret test scores and use them to make decisions.

    Maybe this is our goal… but if so, we might as well be open about it. But that’s an entirely different argument than the ones involved in this debate, which is about b*llsh*t diagnoses obtained by parents who want their perfectly averagely intelligent kid who happens to have gotten a good education to “have a shot” against the creme de la creme.

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    Elizabeth Ditz has it exactly right. I am a commenter here, and I have gone through the process to get my son accommodations. It’s very difficult to get extra time on SATs.

    I know exactly why the kids who get accommodations are generally kids from affluent areas– because only parents who have time, money and connections can go through the hoops the College Board requires. Their requirements are byzantine, and finding out what they are is a nightmare.

    I had to pay thousands of dollars to get my kid tested. I sent my documentation in eight months before the test, and the College Board sat on it for six months. I had to call them about six times for them to respond, and they responded by denying the request for extra time, not telling me that they did so simply because I hadn’t submitted a couple of particular tests that they hadn’t made clear were necessary. Their psychologists knew full well that if my son took those tests, he’d clearly demonstrate his need for accommodations. More badgering ensued (note to readers: if you call the College Board, ALWAYS ask to speak to a supervisor) before they agreed that if I had my son take the tests that week, they’d agree to review them.

    So, he took more expensive tests, and finally the College Board agreed to grant accommodations.

    I wish my son didn’t have learning disabilities, but he does. He’ll never be able to be able to do Mike from Oregon’s job. But he will be able to achieve success in college. In fact, he already is achieving success in college.

    The College Board accommodations are unfair. But they’re not unfair because affluent kids with learning disabilities get accommodations. They’re unfair because non-affluent kids with learning disabilities don’t get accommodations.

  10. Cardinal Fang says:

    And by the way, a diagnosis of dyslexia or attention deficit disorder is not sufficient for a student to be allowed extra time. My son has both of those conditions, and he was initially denied extra time. I needed to prove that his timed results were not reflective of his actual ability and knowledge, by presenting both timed and untimed test results.

  11. Richard Nieporent says:

    I needed to prove that his timed results were not reflective of his actual ability and knowledge, by presenting both timed and untimed test results.

    This is getting more and more Orwellian. If ones “actual ability and knowledge” has no relationship to the time it takes to perform a task, then the tests should not be timed for anyone! Everyone should be able to spend as much time as they need to show their “actual abilities.” The problem is in real life we are always timed. When the boss wants the report done by the end of the week, we cannot request more because it takes us longer to do the task than someone else.

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    The tests are timed. Allen is wrong. No one gets to take the test untimed. Some students get time and a half, and a very few get double time, but nobody takes the tests untimed.

    Moreover, it’s clear that some students need extra time. The SAT requires writing; I’m guessing that no one here would deny extra time to the boy who has no hands. So the issue is, which students should get extra time?

    It would be interesting to see what the scores were if the tests were untimed. After all, no one is standing over a student with a stopwatch when the student is writing a paper.

  13. Michael Lopez wrote

    If we want to criticize the test on the grounds that it doesn’t measure what it wants to measure, go ahead. but the fact is that when we are comparing someone who took it in time-and-a-half against someone who took it in time-flat, then we are comparing apples to oranges: it is a completely different performance measurement.

    What we do know (to the best of my knowledge) is
    1. that allowing extra time on SATs for kids with some LDs raises their scores a certain meaningful percentage (the exact amount is unclear, and the CB is a bit coy about releasing data).
    2. that allowing extra time on SATs for neurotypical kids (no LDs) also raises their scores, but to a much more modest extent. IIRC, the variation is insignificant–less than the increase noted if the student takes the test a second time.
    3. Some test-prep courses (Princeton Review, for example) can document increases in students’ performance afterward. This is a form of accomodation or special treatment. No one has ever suggested flagging tests for students who have participated in test-prep courses.

    Now, what we don’t know: the correlation between (a) higher test scores for kids with LDs who take the test with accomodations and (b) subsequent college performance, using college GPA as a proxy. In other words, we don’t know if higher SATs overpredict subsequent performance (kids struggling in college as evidenced by lower-than-predicted GPAs) underpredict subsequent performance (kids excelling in college as evidenced by lower-than-predicted GPAs), or if the scores are a reasonable predictor. The reason we don’t know is that it is the College Board that would collect and analyze that data and to the best of my knowledge, that hasn’t been done.

    And speaking of accommodations and level playing fields: some kids require special accommodations to see clearly. They are called “glasses” or “contact lenses”. If the child does not have these special accommodations, his or her performance suffers. Golly, if the child is separated from his “accommodations” he won’t be able to perform in the real world. Yet I’ve never heard a call for kids to take tests without vision correction, or the results of tests taken with vision correction accommodations be flagged.

  14. SuperSub says:

    Ditz –
    The tests are designed to measure mental faculty, not the physical ability to write or to see. Hence, students with obvious disabilities that are completely unrelated to their intelligence should receive accomodations whether it is a scribe or glasses.
    The test was designed to measure the accuracy and speed at which students could complete various activities. This is not and never has been a simple content knowledge test. Accomodating those who simply require more time to think puts those who can complete the test at a disadvantage when their results are analyzed. Speed of thought is as important as problem analysis and knowledge. I’m all for extra time for tests that simply measure content, but the SATs are not in this class of tests.

  15. A student’s ability/capability should also be determined by how long it takes for him to get the answer. So no, I’m not buying that taking a longer test is showing one’s “true” potential or aptitude. A kid who can solve an algebraic equation in ten seconds is different from a kid who can solve an algebraic equation in one minute, for whatever reason (i.e. learning disorders).

  16. Cardinal Fang says:

    The test was designed to measure the accuracy and speed at which students could complete various activities. This is not and never has been a simple content knowledge test.

    Well now. Here’s what the College Board has to say about the SAT, the test that they administer:

    “The SAT Reasoning Test is a measure of the critical thinking skills you’ll need for academic success in college. The SAT assesses how well you analyze and solve problems—skills you learned in school that you’ll need in college.”

    Not a word about accuracy and speed. It purports, instead, to be a test of critical thinking skills.

    Let’s consider three kids and the word “punctiliousness,” which, as it happens, is one of the words in today’s Official SAT Question of the Day. One of our three kids is bright and neurotypical; she quickly knows the meaning of “punctilious.” The second kid is average and neurotypical; you could give him an hour, and he wouldn’t know the word. The third kid is bright, but dyslexic, which slows his reading and processing down. He can give you a definition of “punctilious,” but it takes him somewhat longer to read and recognize the word.

    Are we going to say that a college professor would think that Mr. Dyslexic and Mr. Average are equally able? I don’t think so; Mr. Dyslexic will be able to understand the reading when Mr. Average can’t.

  17. Wayne Martin says:

    So once a student with the 1.5x time SAT tests gets into college, does this mean he/she now should be afforded the same 1.5x (or longer)time on college tests too?

  18. My nephew (mild autism, very high IQ) didn’t have to go through a special process to get extra time on the SATs, perhaps because his special education diagnosis came in kindergarten. I think it’s harder to qualify with a learning disability that wasn’t diagnosed till the end of high school since that suggests it’s a ploy to boost scores.

    The percentage of students getting late diagnoses that call for extra time on tests is much, much higher in affluent areas than in low-income areas.

    Learning disabled students can get extra time on college tests. My nephew decided not to ask for it or for any special help in college. Whether that’s a wise move isn’t clear yet.

  19. My students are only 10, so thankfully none of them have to face the SAT just yet. However, if I do my job correctly, and if they persevere with school over the next six years or so, they will. I hope they don’t reach that milestone only to find that their scores are judged as tainted because someone has decided that they are not fast enough.

    Personally, I think this hoopla about timed testing is a larger symptom of the ADHD-ification of our culture that thinks faster is always better. Being able to spew information quickly is great – I first broke 1000 on the SATs in 7th grade, and I felt fabulous – but doesn’t make you qualified to DO anything yet. To jump off the example given in a previous comment, I would much rather see a physician with practical experience and insight, who sits down and actually spends time with me and is thoughtful about my issue, than one who can speedily bubble in the correct answers on the MCATs (which, according to all the pre-med and medical students I knew in college, spend a great deal of time testing your memory for organic chemistry and other subjects that you are highly unlikely to need either for medical school or for practicing medicine) but doesn’t correctly diagnose my problem or come up with an effective treatment. In the end, it’s not the test results that count, but the real-world results.

    I’m an extremely fast test taker who rarely even takes the full time on exams – I have been known to take naps during final exams – but I don’t begrudge anyone else the right to take the time they need. In the end, who produces the better quality answers? It depends on how well we know and can apply the material. In my classes that I’ve taught over the years, I have found that processing speed is only distantly related to the quality of the work. And if you don’t know the material, no amount of extra time is going to help. I could sit for the New York Bar for days and days, and not get anywhere, because I never studied law.

  20. Cardinal Fang says:

    We’re not talking about a student who can solve an algebraic equation in ten seconds, versus one who takes a minute. On SATs, students are afforded fifty percent extra time, or, in very rare cases, double time. Therefore, we’re talking about the kid who takes ten seconds compared to the kid who takes fifteen seconds. Not, I would say, a huge difference, if both of them solve the equation correctly.

    I’d be interested to know what percentage of students who get accommodations get them because of late diagnoses. My son did, but then we’re homeschoolers so he had never taken timed tests before. He took a couple of AP tests this year, at an affluent suburban high school, and it was my impression that the other students who got extra time were offered extra time in all their classes as well; that is, they were students who’d been known all along to have disabilities.

    The College Board is reputedly cracking down on bogus claims for extra time on tests.

  21. Richard Nieporent says:

    I could sit for the New York Bar for days and days, and not get anywhere, because I never studied law.

    I haven’t heard such specious reasoning in a long time. You better hope that if you ever have a medical emergency, the doctor who is treating you is able to make a fast and accurate diagnosis.

  22. Cardinal Fang says:

    And if I have a legal emergency, I should hope my lawyer gives a lightning fast response?

    There are some fields where fast thinking is of the essence: emergency medicine, telemarketing, lion taming, for example. But the law isn’t such a field. If my lawyer writes a good contract, I don’t care if it takes him four hours or six hours. Faster lawyers will get more per hour, of course, but that’s up to the marketplace.

  23. Cardinal Fang — Well, that depends. I’m not altogether too familiar with different branches of law. But let’s hope that if you ever get into a situation that involves your being in the courtroom, you get a lawyer who *can* think quickly and on his feet.

    Point conceded on the length of time for a particular equation on the SAT. But it was more of a general comment on how much time it takes you to do something does reflect on your ability (since you argued that taking an untimed test shows a kid’s true ability, not the timed one…just pointing out that time does make a difference), not necessarily just for the SAT. If you want to argue that that benefit is negligible since the SAT doesn’t give you that much time anyway, then fine.

    I have a proposal. Make all the tests technically untimed. Students can turn their sections whenever they’re done. But the time of completion is marked on the answer sheets. So people know just how long it took Student A to finish a section, compared to Student B. When I took the test, I always finished each section with a good 10 – 15 minutes left. I would have liked having a leg up on the others. 😉 (Tongue planted somewhat firmly in cheek)

  24. If speed isn’t part of the test, why is the test normally timed?

    A test is designed to measure something. If you pass a *different* test, then nobody knows whether you can do what the original one was designed to measure.

    If you take an exam and call it the SAT, but it was really something else, your scores might provide useful information — but it won’t be the same information the SAT would have provided.

    If I ask you how fast we’re going in mph, and you answer in kph without telling me that’s what you’re doing, the consequences could be interesting. Maybe the kph answer would still useful to me…but not if I don’t know that’s what it is.

    Ask for variations if you like, but if they’re not labelled as such, then everyone’s scores are useless. And yes, if there’s any expectation that a student physically filled out the answer sheet himself, then those allowances (braille, writing assistance…) should be disclosed too.

    I knew a three-year-old whose family had a microwave with a dial timer. Try explaining to him that scooting the dial ahead when nobody’s looking doesn’t make the popcorn pop faster. I just assumed he’d understand when he got older.

  25. Well, since I have worked with both medical doctors and lawyers, the importance of speed is relevant to what exactly is chosen in the actual career. Emergency medicine needs to be done by automatic response, thinking can be a distraction. Long term care requires thinking outside the box and a great deal of thinking. I would want a fast mover for an emergency response and a more CAREFUL doctor for long term health. Actually, I think of speed as being more crucial to law. For example, a trial attorney has to be constantly thinking several things at once, prepared for anything. Seconds are crucial and attorneys play mind games with each other. As for contracts, it does matter how quickly a lawyer can think. A slow thinker would never finish a contract. When I worked with lawyers, everything mentally was extremely fast paced. Even if it was sitting for hours at stretch doing research. When I worked at a medical school, physically I had to move fast, but I was better off to try to turn my brain off and follow routine procedures. My boss kept telling me to quit overthinking and let my respones guide me instead. As for MCAT, I have never found it to be a very useful indicator of medical school performace and actual career performance. It is hard to know because really low scoring students are not usually accepted. I do know several doctors who did near perfect on the MCAT, struggled through med school, and became lousy doctors. While several that made it to medical school on a conditional basis because of so-called low MCAT scores, have become exceptional doctors. However, the conditional doctors got accepted to medical school by working their butts off and proving themselves in a master’s program that included clincial trials and research preparation before just a few out of a couple dozen were finally accepted. In other words, due to low scores, they had to prove their worth in a more realistic setting compared to the students who did really well on the MCAT. The LSAT oddly seemed to match fairly well with the lawyers I worked with.

  26. Prof210 says:

    Don’t care about time, Cardinal?

    Since virtually all lawyers bill by the hour, it is interesting that you don’t care whether it takes yours 4 hours or six to draft a contract for you.

  27. Fatherofyoungones says:

    In response to Elizabeth Ditz –

    You should re-read my comments. I did not comment on the ease or difficulty of qualifying for accomodations on the SAT. I have taught approximately 2000 undergraduates at both a Tier university and community college. My experience is students who had alternate test-taking accomodations provided through college disability services.

    I am a firm believer that for most the accomodations were not because of a true disability (I have worked with preschoolers who have true, accurately-diagnosed disabilities) but because the students’ parents gamed the system for a weak diagnosis. With the diagnosis in hand, the student maximizes the chances of receiving a passing grade by taking advantage of every possibble accomodation.

    It is unfair to the other students. It sets a double standard for grading that does not exist in the work world.

  28. Cardinal Fang says:

    Father of young,

    I’m curious about how you know that your students had “weak diagnoses” instead of true disabilities. Learning disabilities don’t come with a stamp on the forehead.

    Which accommodations are an unfair advantage? My son gets some accommodations in his community college classes. I take some college classes at the same school. None of his accommodations would help me in the least.

    What is your experience with granting extended time on exams? Do you think it helps truly disabled students get higher grades? Does it help non-disabled students get higher grades? If you planned an exam to last one hour, and then at the last minute allowed two, would most of the class get higher grades?

  29. The hardest and most realistic tests I took were take home tests. Speed on a test does not really with correlate with speed and quick thinking in the real world that supposely the class is supposed to preparing the student for any way. I know too many speedy test takers who do lousy in the real world. In the real world, I am much, much better at math compared to language skills. I am faster and usually quicker than my co-workers at math issues that arise in a job setting. However, I rarely had enough time to finish math acheivement tests like the ones on the SAT and GRE. I always score much higher on verbal and logic tests because I have no trouble finishing those types of tests on time. I usually finish them really early even. I would have done better if I had a little more time given to me on the math part. I also think a little more time would be more accurate of my true abilities. Perhaps everyone should be given a little more time. I learned to just try to do what I can do right and not worry about finishing the test. I still managed a 630 on the math GRE without finishing. I had to have gotten nearly every question right in order to acheive that. In pratice test situations, if I gave myself 10 to 15 extra min. on the math section, I was capable of doing all or close to all the math questions correctly. I would have liked to have finished, but in the end, my scores were high enough to get me into the graduate school that I wanted. If I had wanted into an really elite school, it could have kept me out.

  30. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    As a teacher, I have seen a few legitimately ‘learning disabled’ students benefit from testing accommodations…. but more commonly, parents who abuse this privilege and use it as a loophole to stick their kid with a phony label, receive accommodations and thus a competitive edge against others, in hopes of boosting Junior’s test scores, thus enabling him to get into the college of their choice. Never mind if Junior has more behavioral/work habits issues than legitimate disabilities–many pediatricians and psychologists are hacks who will sign on to whatever the parents want. Add the therapeutic/psychometric community to the list of hijackers of education, along with leftist judges, multiculturalists and textbook publishers. ‘Nuff said.

  31. “some kids require special accommodations to see clearly. They are called “glasses” or “contact lenses”. If the child does not have these special accommodations, his or her performance suffers.”

    The difference is, that kid will be wearing glasses on the job after he graduates from school. The kid who needed extra time to complete SATs will be asking for extra time for tests all the way through college – but when he gets out into the real world, employers are not going to give him extra time to finish his work.

  32. I have a family member who needs accommodations, so this is of personal interest to me. There are people who need accommodations in tests, and there are those who abuse it. I believe that until a few years ago, if you take the SAT with accommodations, the score will be marked as such. However this practice was stopped by a law suit settlement. I think the original practice was the fair way to go. I think people would not want to abuse it if the results are still being marked.

  33. My comment about taking the bar had nothing to do with how fast lawyers think. It was only meant to illustrate how extra time on a test does not help those who haven’t studied and don’t know what they’re doing.

    And no, I don’t want a doctor who makes lightning fast decisions, unless they are of an emergency nature. As someone else previously said, I want a thoughtful, experienced person who will make the RIGHT decision for me.

    I think the real source of the confusion is that the SAT is a gateway admissions test. If you don’t do well on it, you have a hard time entering any good college – regardless of whether you are entering a field that requires speed. Perhaps the question should be whether the SAT accurately measures performance in all college classes equally, and if not, why colleges are relying on it to determine the quality of their applicants in that field.

    Since the SAT is not designed to measure how someone will do in an actual profession, I think it’s a bad idea to try to correlate speed on the SATs with performance in real jobs. Everyone can provide evidence of great test takers who fail in practical situations, and great practitioners who are simply poor test takers.

  34. I do a huge amount of test prep and work with individual students as well.

    Are accomodations being granted to kids who may not deserve it, or are accomodations granted after a long and grueling qualification process? The answer is “yes”.

    I know a number of kids who qualified for extra time when they had no learning disability. They had mild difficulties with focusing, but nothing approaching an LDD. I’ve also known kids with legitimate learning disabilities who applied and were turned down. All the kids were from upper income families.

    What was the difference? Grades. A kid with legit learning disabilities and good grades will be turned down. A kid with a shaky diagnosis and indifferent grades is more likely to be accepted.

    Meanwhile, I work with disadvantaged kids who would actually pick up some points if they were given more time–but they don’t have the diagnosis or the parental income to pay for one.

    The whole thing is a crock. Ideally, two time parameters should be set, and students allowed to choose which. Their choice should be included in the score.

    “And the time limitations are observed as strictly as those for the regular tests.”

    This is, in my experience, completely untrue. I know several students from schools throughout the Bay Area who have taken the extended time. They have all been given a huge block of time and can use it any way they want.

    I’m willing to believe that the local administration is just screwy, but I’d want to see a cite about extended test administration.

  35. Cardinal Fang says:

    My son just took two different AP tests in the Bay Area. He was granted extended time. In both cases, he got exactly 150% of the standard time for each section. That is, if a section normally was allotted 60 minutes, he was granted exactly 90. If he finished up before 90 minutes ended, he was not permitted to go back and work on some other section.

    I believe this is the way all of the College Board tests are supposed to be administered. Each section has a fixed amount of time (the normal amount of time for students without accommodations, and an extended amount of time for students with accommodations) and during that time, the students may only work on that section. Some schools may be administering the tests in a different way, but if so, they are doing it wrong and should stop.

    Here is the Supervisors Manual for PSATs. It clearly states on page 14 that students allowed extended time get exactly 50% or 100% more on each section, and are not permitted to juggle the time sections around. I couldn’t find Supervisors’ Manuals for the other College Board tests, but there’s no reason to believe they’re different.

  36. AP tests are an entirely different animal, so that’s no good. And if the SAT does require it, then I can say categorically that it’s not consistently administered.

    If it were exactly 50%, it would be 37.50 minutes, instead of 38. That might seem nitpicky, but it’s emblematic of the shoddiness with extended time.

    Extended time test scores have increased dramatically since 2002, so there’s little doubt that people are gaming the system to get their kids higher scores. I don’t know if it does any good–if the kids are scoring in the 600s and 700s, or if they’ve just moved from the 400s to the 500s. I certainly hope the latter, because if kids are getting 700s with extended time that’s repulsive.

    While I’ve worked with kids with legit learning disabilities, I agree that there’s almost no legitimate disability that warrants extended time. It’s just an excuse. My son has dysgraphia, which is a significant handicap on timed essays. I can’t imagine doing what you did–spending thousands of dollars, blah blah–for more time on his many AP tests. It’s an insult to him and to all the other kids who would be taking it legitimately.

  37. Cardinal Fang says:

    Kids with dysgraphia can apply to be allowed to use a word processor to write essays for APs and SATs. It’s a worthwhile accommodation. (Actually I think all students should be allowed to write using a word processor, if they want to– who uses pencil and paper to write anymore? — but I suppose it would be too difficult for the test centers to provide that many.)

  38. Cal, why is it repulsive to you to consider the hypothetical situation of kids with learning disabilities scoring a 700 on the SATs with extended time? Do you have to be unsuccessful in order to “count” as having a disability? If the accomodation works as intended, removing the obstacle that would prevent the child from performing as s/he normally would, then I’d expect to see a range in scores for disabled students, just like you see a range for non-disabled students.

    I would be very concerned about the amount of money we are paying for special education teachers, resource rooms, and special schools like the one where I work if all of our kids bottomed out on the SAT and didn’t pursue college. If educators like me are doing our jobs, then yes, you are going to see kids with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and so on achieving high scores on the SATs and high grades in college. In my opinion, it would be extremely short-sighted to only allow extended time if you know that the kid is going to do badly anyway.

    Isn’t the goal here to get our kids educated? Isn’t that the point of taking the SATs, to gain access to higher learning? College admissions has become too anxiety-frought and competitive, and the hoopla over the SAT has become a symptom of that disease.

    I really fail to understand why a child’s success on the SATs would be “repulsive” to you.

  39. Indigo Warrior says:

    My experience in the world of work tells me that true success is more correlated to “calling” and work habits rather than test performance. I have had my share of juniors (in engineering design) who have performed well in the long term, and some who have not, with only a slight correlation to academic results. Unfortunately, there is no test for calling, and unlikely to be one for a long time if ever. (James Hillman aside)