Some Worry Admissions Scandal Could Add Barriers For Students Who Need Accommodations

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In this photo taken Jan. 17, 2016, a sign is seen at the entrance to a hall for a college test preparation class at Holton Arms School. The current version of the SAT college entrance exam is having its final run, when thousands of students nationwide will sit, squirm or stress through the nearly four-hour reading, writing and math test. A new revamped version debuts in March. (Alex Brandon/AP)
In this photo taken Jan. 17, 2016, a sign is seen at the entrance to a hall for a college test preparation class at Holton Arms School. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The college admissions cheating scandal that Boston federal prosecutors busted last week relied heavily on testing accommodations that are typically reserved for students with disabilities. The alleged ringleader had parents fraudulently apply for things like extra time and a special testing facility to have access to paid-off proctors, prosecutors say.

Some students with disabilities worry the scandal could make it even harder to get what they need to take standardized tests.

Computer scientist Chloe Kliman-Silver says her first reaction to the news was frustration.

"It’s really unfair that this is something that money can buy you," she said.

Kliman-Silver has a sensory processing disorder that makes spatial coordination and handwriting difficult. When the Brown University graduate took the SAT in high school, she applied for two accommodations: the use of a laptop for the essay section and the ability to circle her answers in the test booklet rather than fill in bubbles.

"It was really hard for me to get the accommodations. I had to go through lots of testing," said Kliman-Silver. "The first time I tried to get the accommodations, the SAT board only accepted half of them."

Kilman-Silver worries about blowback from the scandal, and that increased scrutiny could make it harder for students like her. She and many others argue the current process is already difficult.

Cathie Leger, director of the school guidance department at Brockton High School, says getting things like extra time, a special testing facility with minimal distractions or even a test in large print requires a lot of work and a lot of paperwork.

"It’s a legal document," Leger said. "We have to have documentation from the medical field, whether it’s a neurologist or physician. Then I have to send that into the College Board and they have to approve it."

She says while the school helps families coordinate the pieces needed to prove their case to standardized test administrators like the College Board, it’s still up to parents to coordinate the doctor visits and get the necessary documents completed.

That’s a struggle that Wheaton College senior Jessica Chaikof is currently in the middle of. She wants to go to grad school and needs to take the GRE for her applications.

"It’s been a long struggle for me to get the accommodations," she said.

Chaikof has Usher syndrome, a condition that leads to loss of hearing and vision over time. She says it took her two months and three different doctor visits to get all of the necessary paperwork together. Chaikof wishes standardized testing was more accessible to people with disabilities.

"It’s really challenging to go through this process just to get what we need,"she said.

Officials with the College Board are defending their process. In a statement, they say the organization has a robust system in place to prevent cheating and always takes the necessary steps to ensure a level playing field.

The organization added that there have been more disability accommodation requests over the last few years, but it says that’s because more students are choosing to take the SAT or ACT.

This segment aired on March 17, 2019.


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Carrie Jung Senior Reporter, Education
Carrie is a senior education reporter.



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