By Julia Poggi '21
Why on “standardized” tests do we make accommodations for certain people? Isn’t the whole point of an ACT or SAT to test students on an even playing field, not taking into account socio-economic status, race, or ability? So why does the college board allow for extra time on time-based tests? One can argue these accommodations are equitable, but isn’t it better to give no accommodations than just those on certain basis?
Recently, I took my ACT. Because I signed up late, the only place to take it was UMD. As we shuffled into our assigned classrooms, I noticed something interesting about the other students testing with me. I was one of 3 white kids in my 20 something-person test room, while the extended time classroom was 100% white, and almost all of them had their parents dropping them off and picking them up.
This was strange to me for a few reasons. First of all, I was in the racial minority of my test room. This was drastically different to my usual experience at NCS. Secondly, a part of me felt I belonged in the extra- time room. I qualify for it but chose not to take it. I also felt put off by the parent presence. These parents seemed overinvested and almost obsessed with their children’s academic wellbeing, giving them snacks, words of encouragement and test-taking tips up until the last second. While these parents could have just been concerned, or the children may have had disabilities that prompt more attentive parenting, this did not seem to always be the case. With the 2 hours of standby time before the test was finally distributed (do not take your ACT at UMD), I had a lot of time to ponder these observations. The most important conclusion of my test taking was the affirmation that I had made the right choice to use regular time.
How far does this go? LSAT, GMAT, MCAT (Med School) exams? Professional license tests? State Medical licensing boards? Driver's License exams? Ph. D. defenses? Civil Service Exams? Police promotion exams?
The ACT is a timed test. The difficulty of the test does not lie in the content, but the limited time given to answer questions. By giving kids extra time, the time factor is effectively neutralized. Miriam Freedman, a Special Education Attorney claims “"More time on a timed test is like changing the font size on an eye exam. It's no longer the same test." The majority of kids that receive extra time are affluent, white children with learning disabilities that, for the most part, do not infringe on their ability to function (California College Board). The testing alone to be eligible for these accommodations costs thousands of dollars and is only affordable to a small group of people.
I personally qualify for extra time. I have an “essentially undetectable” case of ADHD that really does not impact my life or learning abilities, yet I could likely be eligible to have up to double time to complete my ACT and take each section separately on different days. To take extra time feels like scamming a system meant for children who are far more impacted by exploiting a loophole. And frankly, it concerns me that it is even a possibility. While I turned down extra time, feeling that accepting it would be unethical, I doubt many others in my situation would do the same. The disability system is flawed. My experience with DC learning disability processionals is that if you pay for the testing, they declare you eligible for accommodations, regardless of true disability. I have yet to meet someone that tested negative for a learning disability.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t people with learning disabilities who deserve extra time. But the reality is that there are too many people who don’t that exploit the system. For that reason, I believe that instead of drawing a line in a grey area of “what disabilities are severe enough to warrant accommodations”, these accommodations should be omitted entirely, not because some people aren’t deserving, but because the system is far too abused in practice. Unfortunately, with this system, the abuse of able students would hurt those who deserve it. However, in a world surrounded by college admissions scandals and corruption, that alternative feels fairer than the current reality.
Moreover, if standardized tests are to make accommodations for some people, shouldn’t they do it for anyone going into the test with a disadvantage? Kids whose school districts underperform do not get easier questions, even if they are statistically less likely to have covered material than students in higher preforming and/or better funded schools. Students who do not have a car are not allowed a later start time to accommodate for the lost sleep that long public transportation may require. Students learning English as a second language are not provided an alternative or easier English grammar and writing mechanics section, which is far more intuitive to a native speaker. Of course, these accommodations are not made; it is a standardized test. So why continue to give an exponentially increasing group of people (mostly affluent whites) a leg up?
Therein lies the issue. In an attempt to offset the privilege an educationally able person may have- while not attempting to offset the disadvantages caused by socio-economic status, family structure, race, or other factor- the “standardized” test administration actually increases inequality and inequity. This conflict also poses a larger issue: are standardized tests, either as they are now or without any accommodations, fair assessments of students’ abilities?