As part of the college application scandal, today’s Wall Street Journal reports that more students use SAT accommodations. I’m quoted in that article.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/college-admissions-scandal-relied-on-more-students-taking-the-sat-untimed-11552943635?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1

Yet, the key reality I focus on is not about students or parents–it’s about these huge and wealthy testing companies, the College Board (which administers the SAT) and the ACT. Sixteen years ago, they created the totally predictable pickle we’re now. At that time, they initiated nonstandard so-called “standardized” tests–if you can believe that! They invalidated their very own product! And the public continues to pay for it dearly with actual dollars and much anxiety.

What happened 16 years ago? In 2003 these companies decided to stop notifying colleges and schools when a student took the test in a NONstandard way, as with extended time. Mind you, it is not illegal provide such notice (called “flagging.” ) Valid tests continue to do it–as they should. Check out my 2003 story about this, “Disabling the SAT.” A sorry tale indeed.

It was obvious then that this development would become a loophole. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

“The rates at which students receive testing accommodations also vary dramatically by zip code, with well-to-do, empowered parents being able to pressure the system into giving their children extra support. ….

The (College) Board’s decision to end flagging is likely to exacerbate these problems. 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 privcate psychologists and the pricey lawyers….”

Now this freebie loophole has blown up.

Let’s not blame parents. Let’s not blame students. Let’s finally be honest and blame the companies for no longer providing tests that are standardized.

I’ve written many times about the options these companies have–these include bringing back the flags, ending timing for anyone (thereby creating a different test–let’s be honest about this), creating a new test, no longer having these tests, etc., etc. The public also has options which it has already exercised, as more colleges make these no-longer-standardized tests “optional.”

Let’s see what the College Board and the ACT finally do about the mess they created. I trust and hope they will do the right thing and make standardized tests –standardized– again.

The misuse of SAT and ACT accommodations is an important and unfortunately wholly predictable story as we see in the current college admissions scandal.

As a school attorney, I see the current scandal to have been predictable and waiting-to-happen ever since 2003, when the College Board and ACT stopped flagging test results that had been taken under non-standard conditions. And yes, it is gameable.

My 2003 story, “Disabling the SAT,” actually predicted the current mess:

“The rates at which students receive testing accommodations also vary dramatically by zip code, with well-to-do, empowered parents being able to pressure the system into giving their children extra support…The Board’s decision to end flagging is likely to exacerbate these problems. 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, so, 16 years later, here we are!

I don’t blame parents for trying to “help” their kids. That’s what parents do. I blame these companies for creating this loophole. In my law practice, I saw parents becoming savvier, making their requests earlier (in junior high school or early in high school) to have a history of “extended time” for the College Board or ACT to act on. The loophole was provided for them by these companies. Who can blame them for using it?

But my concern over the years has been elsewhere. It’s been about these tests themselves. With “nonstandard” accommodations–mostly extended time—these tests are no longer standardized and no longer valid because they don’t measure what they purport to measure. That is, how a student performs in a timed situation. It’s time to get honest and real about this.

So why do these costly and by now uninterpretable tests still have such sway? Good question!

In terms of the misuse of accommodations, the numbers don’t add up. Alas, hard data from the College Board is not readily available. So, working backward, starting with the fact that 13% of students have “IEPs” and an estimated 2-3% have “504 plans.” There is some overlap in these two programs. And, of course, many students with disabilities who do NOT take these tests at all!

Yet, we have anecdotal stories that in some upscale suburbs close to 18-20% of students have extended time and in some private schools–around 40%! And, one can only imagine that in low income communities, those numbers are very low. Equity? Fairness? Honesty? Test validity? In an ungameable situation these numbers just couldn’t be!

What to do about this? These companies have choices. One obvious question becomes: when will they throw in the towel and stop timing any of these tests? That sounds easy. But NOT so fast…

….. because we know that there’s no free lunch. When and if they do stop timing these tests, the tests will be easier to take and less anxiety-producing. Here again, careful what you wish for as we will witness yet another notch in the lowering of standards in our schools and colleges because, in the real world, timing IS an important attribute and skill set in many areas of modern life. Pick your poison. Another story for another day.

Of course, these companies could go back to flagging test results given under non-standard conditions which would immediately wipe out this loophole. That is a perfectly valid and still legal option. To implement it, however, the companies would need good hard evidence of why they time these tests. Why? Why? Why? We still don’t have a clear answer to that basic question. And that’s where this story needs to start. Why are these tests timed? What important and fundamental knowledge or skills they measure that are time-dependent? This question needs an answer.

Or, we could throw up our hands and stop using these no-longer standardized tests—as many colleges already have. No testing! Some people would be relieved. I am not one of them, as it would mean yet another notch in our lowering standards. I would vote to bring back the flags and force the companies to explain why these tests are timed. Convince us that timing is essential. If they can’t do that, they should stop timing anyone and stop the madness.

https://www.sfgate.com/education/article/sat-act-cheating-scandal-huffman-test-students-13682741.php

A great question. The article does a good job of answering it…. in real time (while ignoring the 2003 back story when these big companies (the College Board and the ACT) stopped “flagging” test results given with non standard accommodations. See my 2003 tale about this (what I believe to be a) giant misstep by these companies. https://www.educationnext.org/disablingthesat/

Here’s a key sentence: “Particularly glaring in the 204-page indictment is that the majority of the children, whose parents were charged Tuesday, had seamlessly secured disability accommodations on their standardized tests…”

Glaring indeed. As a school attorney, I’ve been writing about this waiting-to-happen-scandal for years.

The accommodations loophole (started in 2003 when the SAT and ACT stopped “flagging” test results given under nonstandard conditions)…. has been an invitation to misuse. This story confirms that, in some circles, it’s become a racket.

But even this angle of the scandal misses another big and important story. My chief concern has been that the use of non-standard accommodations (like 50% extra time or 100% or having the right to take the test over two days or whatever) leads to tests that are no longer standardized. Timed tests are, by definition, supposed to be TIMED. Thus, they are no longer vaild.

So, honestly, what is the point? Why are we still taking these costly and anxiety producing tests–when they are no longer standardized…… and their results cannot be honestly interpreted or compared from student to student.

So, the obvious question becomes: when will these companies throw in the towel and stop timing any of these tests?

Not so fast….. because, of course, there’s no free lunch. When they do stop timing these tests, the tests will (undoubtedly) be more costly as they’ll need more proctors, but most importantly, the tests will be easier and less anxiety-producing. And again, we will be witnessing another notch in the lowering of standards in our schools and colleges…. Pick your poison! Another story for another day….

Of course, these companies could go back to flagging test results given under non-standard conditions, a perfectly valid and legal option–for which the companies would need evidence of why these tests are timed. Why? Why? Why? We still don’t have a clear answer to that basic question.

In the meantime, please see my old 2003 story–when the SAT and ACT stopped flagging test results given with “nonstandard” accommodations, most often extended time. It’s a sad tale–started perhaps with good intentions–that has lead to misuse (now, even abuse), loss of trust in these tests, and unfairness—among its many unfortunate side effects.
Here’s the link: https://www.educationnext.org/disablingthesat/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47532170

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47532170
Read this and weep on so many levels with a story with so many strands…. For me, let’s focus on the abuse of accommodations for the SAT and ACT. Wealthy parents get doctors to write letters that the child is disabled and voila, according to this story, the child gets extra time–maybe time and a half or the right to come back the next day to finish the test. Really? What can this test possibly mean? how can it possibly be a standardized test? It can’t be.

The question I’m left with is: when will these companies stop timing anyone? Since these tests are no longer standardized, why do we still use them and pay so much for that priviledge….  Ending the timing of these tests will avoid the next scandal on this front.

Then we can move on to all the other scandals in this story. Read it and weep, indeed.

 

 

As a school attorney I believe this to be true. As a parent, as well. And you? I suspect you believe it also. Here’s a Wall Street Journal op-ed by a psycholanalyst…. on this very vital issue.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/were-overmedicating-our-children-11551917025?mod=MorningEditorialReport&mod=&mod=djemMER_h

I am a concerned observer– not an expert– in this field. What is also concerning as well is the long term effects on these children (mostly boys) who grow up.. Where do the meds take them?

I spoke recently to a psychiatric nurse who treats young homeless men– many of whom started on their drug use/abuse with these meds given to them in schools. Is there a connection? Some research points to that. It’s very concerning–a tragedy that needs to be studied widely.

We should not be doing harm when we’re trying to do good.