Half disabled?

Manhattan private-school students resent the high number of classmates who get extra time on tests because they’ve been classified with a learning disability, reports the New York Sun. The story quotes a girl who says half the students taking the SAT at her private school received extra time. Half of her classmates with extra time are admitted to Ivy League colleges, she says.

The practice of giving students with learning disabilities more time to take their tests has become so common at top private schools in New York City and across the country that students say it carries nearly no stigma. For everything from the SAT to weekly math quizzes, they say, a growing number of students will get as much as double the standard time allotment, and no one pays much attention.

Disability rights activists describe the trend as an important victory for students with difficulties such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, but a small number of students are waging a battle against the accommodations, a struggle that could intensify when the SAT season begins again this fall.

Another student says 25 percent of his private-school classmates get extended time.

Parents spend thousands of dollars to have their high school students tested for attention deficit disorder and similar problems. Apparently, “test anxiety” isn’t good enough.

It’s not clear what percentage of private-school students are diagnosed with dubious disabilities to boost their grades or SAT scores, but it’s more common for affluent students to get extra time for disabilities than lower-income students.

Another story passes on “authenticity” advice from an admissions consultant: Make a small error on your application so it won’t look like it’s been packaged by an admissions consultant.

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  1. John Thacker says:

    It’s hard to believe that so many children of wealthy and upper-middle-class families suffer from learning disabilities.

    An enormous problem that got worse when the SAT was pressured into dropped the asterisk that used to appear beside scores where extra time and other accommodations were granted.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I wonder if anybody gets by with this excuse taking the Professional Engineering exams?

  3. Richard Nieporent says:

    To be more accurate, The College Board was sued into removing the asterisk. Wealthy families have learned how to game the system by getting their children extra time on exams without their being any stigma attached to this help. As usual it is the people who play by the rules who get screwed. Sometimes the parents can go too far as in the infamous case of the parent who sued his school board so that his “disabled” daughter would be the sole valedictorian in her class. This resulted in so much outrage by the other students that it lead to the discovery that the student had plagiarized an article she had written. The upshot was that she her admission to Harvard was rescinded.


  4. I’ve heard about this in several contexts and always wonder if there are really that many people who benefit from extra time. I typically found that I either knew the answers or I didn’t, so extra time wouldn’t have done very much good. Now that I teach (at a community college) I find that, as when I was a student or TA, the first and last to finish usually don’t do very well.

  5. I can’t speak for all of the students, but I do have a handful every year who need extra time to show what they know. My dyslexic students especially need the additional minutes. The main problem I see is that so many students are diagnosed with so many afflictions, new and old, that it may not be long before a majority of the students are warranted extra time.

  6. I’m not questioning the idea that dyslexic students might benefit from extra time (the appropriateness of different testing conditions is a debatable issue) – I’m questioning the benefit of parents shopping around for a diagnosis that allows students without a ‘real’ disorder to get extra time. For a non-disabled student, is a lack of time the reason that they don’t get a higher score, and does having more time actually improve their score?

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    It’s not hard for me to believe that so many wealthy kids have learning disabilities. Lots of kids have learning disabilities, but the wealthy parents are much more likely to be able to afford the money and time it takes to get the College Board to grant accommodations.

  8. If enough people end up with “disabilities”, then perhaps “disability” isn’t the correct term. Perhaps “normal” is, in which case they should deal with it.

  9. HELEN

    Everyone’s special, Dash.


    Which is another way of saying no one is.

  10. Cardinal Fang says:

    How would the distribution of scores change if the SAT were given untimed to all students? Let’s ignore the writing part for now.

    The top students’ scores wouldn’t change; they finish the test anyway. The bottom students’ scores might get better, but quite likely would get worse, as they gave more answers, most of them wrong. It seems to me only the second quarter (the students somewhat above average) would see improvement.

    It’s not obvious to me how the timed scores are a better representation of the students’ abilities than the untimed scores.

  11. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Who pays overtime for the proctors?

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    The SAT costs $43 per student. Normally, students who get extended time get fifty percent extra time; a very few students get double time. If everyone who took the test got double time, the cost per student of the extra proctoring would be small.

  13. Cardinal Fang says:

    Of all students who take the SAT, 2% of them take it under nonstandard conditions.(pdf, see table 7). In the state of New York, 4% take it under nonstandard conditions.(pdf)

    In both cases, the students who take the test under nonstandard conditions average slightly worse scores.