The IMPOSSIBLE Special Ed Fix!

The IMPOSSIBLE Special Ed Fix!

We’ve heard about the “IMPOSSIBLE burger” — making burgers from vegetables, not beef. Some people think it’s actually yummy!

So how about the IMPOSSIBLE Fix for special education!

It’s time and it’s not complicated: focus on teaching and learning for all students, general and special education, not procedures, rights, due process, litigation, and the ever-present anxiety-laden fear of litigation that so wrenches today’s schools, teachers, students, and parents.

For the 80–90% of students with disabilities who have mild and moderate needs and are educated mostly in general education classrooms, and their general education peers, focus on learning in schoolrooms — not their parents’ fights in courtrooms.

Notably, in 2017, the Supreme Court, in Endrew F. v. Douglas County, acknowledged the existence of two student groups who receive special education. We know that 10–20% of them have severe or profound needs, and often require complex and costly services. For these students, I believe it’s time to convene a summit to plan a new way forward.

The IMPOSSIBLE Fix focuses on the 80–90% of students with disabilities who have mild or moderate needs and are mostly in general education classrooms. It’s time to substitute the entitlement and due process rights they have had since 1975 when the law was enacted to ensure that all students with disabilities receive education services. That goal was achieved long ago. We now educate more than 6 million students under this law — 13–14% of all students! The entitlement, the only one in our schools, is no longer needed, in my view. Uncapped, it is costly and has become dysfunctional, damaging, and often impedes good education practice.

Really? End the entitlement and due process? That sure is radical! Yes, and probably IMPOSSIBLE. But, let’s at least consider this path. I see it as the only way to fix the mess we’re in. And, if we can’t end it — let’s limit and cap it.

Imagine a 2nd grade teacher with 24 students — five of whom receive special education services. She knows she has to take care of those students first — lest a dispute or hearing arise! How does that help all students learn? How is that fair to those children and the other 19 in the classroom? How is that best practice?

I’ve been writing and speaking about reform at least since 1995. It seems like forever! My writings and presentations are usually well-received, and I often hear: “You’re doing important work. Keep at it.” “Good luck with that!” And the most poignant, “You’re saying exactly what I’ve been thinking and have been afraid to say….”

Yet, nothing really changes until, hopefully, now. Over the last 5–10 years I’ve sensed as new feeling… that more and more people are willing to consider real change. Here’s how we can get to where we need to be to focus on schooling and learning for all students, including the 80–90% of students with disabilities and their general education peers.

1. That table. Invite the right people — all stakeholders people to the table. Since special education students make up around 13–14% of all students, have them be that percent at the table. Fill the table with general education teachers, administrators, parents who work with and love -average students, advanced and gifted students, English language learners, students in poverty, students in wealth. You get the idea. All students. No more trying to fix special education by inviting only those in the “biz” with a sprinkling of others. Instead, invite 13–14% of stakeholders who work with and represent special education — teachers, administrators, parents.

Then, seek honest input from those at the table. Ask open ended questions. Build a summary that everyone takes back to their lives, shares, and revises, until you repeat that meeting at that table. And repeat until we fix the mess we are in.

2. The options. Create attractive options that will substitute for the cumbersome and burdensome system that, after all the paperwork, meetings, and other procedures leaves special education teachers with just 27% of their time for — you guessed it — teaching! Many leave the field as a result, creating a special education teacher shortage.

Creative attractive options already exist. Here are but a few examples.

Check out Vermont’s sweeping education reform.

And see excellent work in competency-based education in Westminster, Colorado.

I’m also eager to learn more about Karen L Mapp’s program for parent and family engagement at Harvard.

Oh, there are so many other examples of schools and others doing effective work for all students. It’s time to open the floodgates!

Instead of the time and money spent on nonsense –paperwork, compliance, litigation — nonsense because these do not improve student outcomes and, often, get in the way —

Instead of due process and litigation, seek the “the IMPOSSIBLE Fix” of dispute resolution options that are relationship and trust-building and do not involve litigation.

Instead of labeling students as gatekeepers to services, through the failed “wait to fail” model, provide early and steady interventions for all students — from the most needy to the most advanced.

Instead of endless focus on student weaknesses — what they can’t do — focus on their strengths and passions — what they can and love to do!

Instead of training parents to become mini lawyers to fight against the very schools that educate their children, train parents to help their children learn and benefit from all the gifts that schools offer.

3. The benefits. Treasure benefits that will result from implementing the IMPOSSIBLE Fix. These include more time for teaching and learning, better partnerships and more trust between schools and parents, fewer teachers abandoning the field, moneys spent on best practices in classrooms, not winning strategies in court rooms, and the best news of all: better outcomes for all students, as teachers will have more than a mere 27% of time for teaching.

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work to make the IMPOSSIBLE — actually POSSIBLE! Let’s create the Impossible Special Ed Fix!

This was originally posted on Medium

This Commentary In Education Week (November 13, 2019) by James R. Delisle is important. So, I’m taking the liberty of providing it to my readers here.

I think Delisle said it well — we need to educate all of our children and not scapegoat those who are advanced or gifted. While I don’t like the term “gifted and talented” and prefer to use the term “advanced,” I support this writer’s view . Our inability to assist those at the top through a misplaced “bias” against them will, in the end, hurt all of us. Our nation needs all of our students to be their best. All of them. We cannot afford to ignore/scapegoat/resent/choose your verb/ those who happen to be bright and advanced. Instead, we need them to excel!

Here’s James R. Delisle’s Opinion, followed by the Comment I submitted.



Stop Scapegoating Gifted Students for Inequality

The faulty logic behind intensifying attacks on gifted education

By James R. Delisle

November 6, 2019 (Published in the November 13, 2019 paper edition).

When I began teaching children with cognitive difficulties more than 40 years ago, it seemed that everyone I met had something positive to say about me or my job selection: “You must have infinite patience.” “We need more teachers willing to work with students who learn differently.” “I could never do such a demanding job.”

Several years later, after having worked with a 5th grader who had both learning challenges and an incredibly sharp intellect, I changed my career focus to the other end of the special education continuum: I became a teacher of gifted children. Never before had I worked with such a complex child — one who both excelled academically while simultaneously facing definite learning and behavioral issues. I figured if one child like this existed, others did, too. I wanted to help these types of kids.

I thought that my work with gifted kids would be considered as valuable as my work with children with cognitive difficulties. However, that’s when the laudatory comments stopped and vocal criticisms took the place of the close-to-sainthood comments I had received earlier in my career: “We should spend our scarce education dollars on kids who really need it, not gifted kids.” “Gifted kids don’t need you half as much as those who struggle to learn.” “Why are you teaching kids who already have it made in school?”

“Today’s gifted children and their special education programs are blamed for many of society’s ills.”

It all seemed so odd to me, as common sense would dictate that whichever extreme of the intellectual bell curve children fell on, they would have unique learning needs not experienced by so-called “average students.”

Of course, I experienced this logical schism more than four decades ago, so things would certainly be different today, in 2019. And they are. The schism is worse. Today’s gifted children and their special education programs are blamed for many of society’s ills — educational inequality, racial and economic divisions, and the promotion of elitism among the parents whose children have been identified as gifted. I’m not exactly sure why this schism has gotten bigger instead of smaller, but it might have something to do with our collective American discomfort in labeling some kids more intellectually capable than others. And, as a result, gifted kids have become the educational scapegoats for detractors seeking to blame them for simply being themselves.

The most recent salvo into this educational firestorm is the recommendation of the New York City School Diversity Advisory Group, a commission appointed by Mayor Bill DeBlasio, to eliminate most gifted programs in the city and blend the most intellectually capable children into general education classes where the 1st, 4th, or 10th grade teachers will (in theory) be able to meet gifted students’ advanced academic needs.

Proponents of this plan consider the high percentage of White and Asian children in the New York City gifted programs and schools to be de facto evidence of the above-mentioned -isms: racism, classism, and elitism. But, instead of seeing the racial and economic imbalance in gifted programs as a cry to expand methods of identifying giftedness in populations of children who are underserved by them, the solution is to toss out what works for some children because it doesn’t work for all children.

Eliminating gifted programs, in the New York City schools or anywhere else, would be a capitulation to simplistic thinking that denies a blatant reality: that gifted children, like any other children with atypical leaning needs, require an education that embraces their needs, not ignores them.

Using this same faulty logic, I have to wonder if the New York City schools should consider eliminating classes and programs for those with developmental delays, as children of color and students from poverty are generally overrepresented in such options. How about varsity basketball teams, as they tend to be underrepresented by short people and those who can’t run fast? Or theatre and music programs where auditions are required, as these auditions tend to eliminate those who can’t memorize a script or sing like a songbird?

My hunch is that lawsuits would surely follow attempts to eliminate programs for children with learning challenges. And, woe to the public school that promotes an “everyone can be on the varsity team” approach to athletics, as game attendance would surely drop without some baseline standard of performance as a prerequisite for becoming a point guard. When common-sense standards are set to match the expectations of performance in either academic or extracurricular endeavors, we are not practicing discrimination. Instead, we are recognizing that different kids have different levels of gifts and talents, plain and simple.

I have taught and counseled thousands of gifted children and teens. Each of these kids had a parent or other caregiver who wanted nothing more than what every other parent or caregiver wants for their own children: the chance to shine in their own light and to have their intellectual and other learning needs appreciated, respected, and addressed.

Gifted children have always been in our schools — and they always shall be. Denying them educational equity while offering it to every other child with a learning difference is the ultimate example of misplaced bias. By seeking to eliminate gifted programs entirely, New York City schools and any other jurisdiction inclined to follow their lead would be well-advised to consider that the true meaning of equity is rooted in fairness and justice. Applying this understanding of equity universally in schools, not by whim, serves all of our students well, including those who are gifted.

James R. Delisle is a retired distinguished professor of education from Kent State University and the author of 24 books, including the 2018 Doing Poorly on Purpose: Strategies to Reverse Underachievement and Respect Student Dignity (ASCD/Free Spirit). For the past eight years, he has taught a freshman seminar for gifted high school students at Scholars Academy in Conway, S.C.

Vol. 39, Issue 13, Page 20

Published in Print: November 6, 2019, as Stop Scapegoating Gifted Children

© 2019 Editorial Projects in Education

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Miriam Freedman4 days ago

Thank you, Jim Deslisle. Of course, you are right! And I appreciate your pointing out current trends (especially those in New York City) that defy common sense and good public policy and will lead us down the road to mediocrity — if followed.

But let’s go a step further. Not only should we serve all children well and end this “misplaced bias” against the gifted — as you call it, but let’s also remember that individual students will live and work in the larger context of our nation. Our nation needs all students to be the BEST they can be — including advanced and gifted students.

When I read that recent NAEP and other scores show a FLATTENING at the top, I cry for my beloved country (to quote Alan Paton). What are we doing here? How does mediocrity help us? This is nuts!

Our nation needs all children to contribute their gifts and talents. All children. Including, of course, the ones who are the subject of this excellent op-ed. And it’s our schools’ job to help them be the best they can be.

Your thoughts?

This was originally posted on Medium

The provocative title of Greg Toppo’s piece in Education Next. How about untimed SATs for everyone, he posits.

So interesting and so sad to me, as I ‘ve watched this unfortunate saga unfold since even before 2002. The SAT’s extra time story is the story that just won’t go away ever since the College Board made a total mess of if back in 2002/2003. That was when the CB (and shortly thereafter the ACT) stopped notifying readers by flagging (with an asterisk) test scores that were achieved under nonstandard conditions, such as extra time. Before then, these tests were indeed standardized timed tests. If a student received extended time, as was possible for a few — less than 2% of test takers — notice was provided to the readers of the test result reports — such as college admissions officers — that the score was obtained with a nonstandard accommodation; that is, the test was no longer standardized!

2002–3 opened the floodgates. As you’ll read below, Bruce Poch nailed that reality in Toppo’s article. I had predicted it back in 2003, in my own Education Next piece, “Disabling the SAT.”

Indeed, it was obvious for anyone who chose to look — to see!

In essence the CB and ACT invited students with disability labels to seek extra time on these tests — 50% 75% or 100% more time-and the gift was that nobody would know because the CB and ACT would no longer tell them! Standardized and nonstandardized testing would, henceforth, be lumped together in SAT and ACT reports!

We predicted then that this gift would lead to use/misuse of extra time, especially in mostly in wealthy communities. Besides my 2003 story, see Sam Abrams’ 2005 report, cited in Toppo’s piece. And now, it’s gone over the top as we’ve witnessed the criminalized extreme to which some parents have taken this in the “Varsity Blues” scandal.

While the CB’s Zachary Goldberg says that removing the flag was the right thing to do at the time, I disagree. It was the easy way out for this huge and powerful organization that was faced with the threat of a lawsuit at the time. They settled. Buckled. And in so doing, they wiped out validity from their prize product. They no longer kept the tests valid. This settlement confused parents, teachers and students — and still does. Over these almost 20 years, it became the story that they just can’t “disappear,” And tragically, as we all know, it has lead to unfair gaming of the system.

So how to fix it? Now, it appears that the wish among many seems to be to make these tests untimed. Sure, that may solve the gaming problem for now. But I say, careful what you wish for.

Sure, go ahead. Change the test — make it untimed —and while you’re at it, why not let students use their iPhones when taking the test or let them stand on their heads spitting wooden nickels to relax them…when taking it. Whatever. Sure, go ahead. And maybe create a new organization or company to create these tests.

But understand that you are creating and promoting different tests— no longer the SAT or ACT which are timed and standardized. At the very least, be honest about what you are doing. Sure, it may be a “Possible Solution to the Gaming Problem,” as the article’s tagline announces — but at what cost? And will it get us where we need and want to be?

Toppo quotes Ari Trachtenberg, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at BU, as questioning the accommodations practices. Accommodations are not rigorously analyzed or understood. Further, it’s not clear that giving more time to college students actually helps them in life or when they are faced with “high-pressure tech interviews, “ etc., etc., etc. Of course he’s right. As the article points out, the whole field of time-related accommodations is squishy at best.

Bruce Poch, a dean of admissions and executive director of college counseling at Chadwick School, is also quoted. He is spot on when he said the CB handed the keys to this problem to the world back in 2003.

Let’s analyze that a bit more. What I wrote about then and what is still true, is that the key to this mess is the CB’s refusal to tell us why the test is timed. Indeed Ruth Colker, a law professor at Ohio State University who is an advocate for untimed or extended-time SATs, writes that these tests should be untimed “unless they can show that the strict time limits are truly required for validity.” She is totally right, of course, in her focus on the key to this mess which has been here and ignored for almost 20 years!

Since 2002/3, many of us have made these arguments over the years . And yet, the beat goes on. More kids take the SATs and ACTs and these organization rake in more money.

The question to day is: WHY do we let the CB and ACT get away with just trying to maintain “test security” to keep their industry going? It’s maddening! Can’t they be put on the spot finally and answer the question: Why is the SAT timed? WHY? WHY? WHY?

We still don’t know. It’s more than time that the College Board level with the public and tell us.

This was originally posted on Medium

Here’s an important piece in today’s Wall Street Journal (September 7–8, 2019), The Secret of a Charter School’s Success? Parents.”

Robert Pondiscio’s article is brave because it talks real about what many of us know but dare not say out loud. By focusing on the vital role that parents play, it tracks my own thinking that reform efforts for student success really really need parental (or other mentor — caregiver, grandparent, etc.) support and engagement.

In short, for me, it highlights the nagging concern about the “close the gap” obsession that is driving schools and policy makers these days — that focus on schools without focusing on parents. As I see it, we will not get to success by doing that. We continue to try to solve the wrong problem with the wrong players. Thus, the public and policy makers too often continue the drumbeat of beating up on schools and teachers — and throwing more money and effort on the challenge — yet the gaps remain.

Too often, our public schools are not playing with a full deck. One leg of the three-legged stool is missing! We don’t have all the necessary players on board — students, teachers, parents — all fulfilling their end of the mission. It’s time we focus on that other leg of the puzzle — parents. We need them on board as active participants. With that, we can begin to hope for real success.

This article provides a rather stark example of what public schools can do to get parents on board to educate all students…and even begin to “close those gaps.”

Your thoughts? Here’s that article!

The Secret of a Charter School’s Success? Parents

Low-income families ‘self-select’ for Success Academy’s demanding program, with remarkable results

Ninth grader Elliot Detou at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts in March 2017. PHOTO: STEPHEN REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


Robert Pondiscio

Sept. 6, 2019 9:50 am ET

Charter schools are a boutique phenomenon in American education, educating a mere 6% of U.S. school children. But they attract a disproportionate amount of attention — and controversy — because of their unique place in our education ecosystem. Public, tuition-free schools open to all students, but operated independently of school districts, they offer a Rorschach test revealing how one feels about U.S. public education at large. They can be perceived either as engines of innovation and an indispensable means to rescue children from failing neighborhood schools, or as an existential threat draining away resources — both money and engaged families — from traditional public schools.

Collectively, charter schools educate 3.2 million children in 7,000 schools in 43 states and the District of Columbia. None are more polarizing than New York City’s network of about 50 Success Academy schools, which serve 17,000 students — 94% of whom are from minority backgrounds — under their visionary and lightning-rod leader, Eva Moskowitz. Most are less than a decade old, and all of them are exceptionally high performing. In a city where less than 40% of black and Hispanic children test at proficiency for reading or math, 90% of Success Academy’s students of color passed the most recent state reading test. Virtually all of them — over 98% — did so in math.

Test results should not be the sole measure of school quality, but they’re how we often keep score. By that standard, there’s no such thing as a bad Success Academy school. Its very “worst” campus saw 85% of its students pass last year’s reading test, and in math the worst was 92% — a level of quality and consistency unmatched by any other large charter school network in the U.S.

Success Academy does something else that’s unique and mostly unnoticed, but it creates the conditions that make these results possible. By law, oversubscribed charter schools must admit students by lottery. Success Academy has roughly six applicants for every seat, which gives the appearance of a randomly selected student body. But it exercises unusual influence over which students end up actually enrolling. In the end, the chances of an applicant being offered a seat appear to be closer to 50/50 than one-in-six.

Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy, in August 2017. PHOTO: CELESTE SLOMAN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Parents who win the lottery, and even those whose children are only on the wait list, must attend a series of mandatory meetings and complete various administrative steps for their applications to remain “active” between the April lottery and the start of school in August. Those who falter fall away.

At every step, school leaders aggressively preach to prospective parents about their no-nonsense culture and the expectation that parents come with eyes wide open, fully committed to Success Academy’s program and policies, including strict behavior codes, school uniform compliance, supervising homework, reading with children every night and recording what’s read in a log. Parents are warned repeatedly in unsparing language, “Success Academy may not be for you.” Significantly, the schools offer no transportation or after-school programs, a potential deal breaker for working single parents or those without the support network to pick up and drop off their children every day.

This process, whether by happenstance or design, yields a parent body comprised largely of the most motivated parents and those with the organizational skills and resources to meet Success Academy’s high bar for parental engagement. This sets the stage to strive for — and mostly achieve — consistent and high levels of academic achievement “at scale” among low-income children of color, who would otherwise be lost to the dull hum of mediocrity in zoned neighborhood schools.

To deny low-income families of color the ability to self-select into safe and well-run schools with high expectations is to impose mediocrity on them.

This seems unfair — except for the fact that the ability to self-select into a well-run, high-performing school is unremarkable and unquestioned among affluent Americans. When well-off parents pay for their children to attend a private or religious school, or when they move into high-income ZIP codes where inflated home prices and eye-popping property taxes are de facto tuition for excellent “public” schools, they are making the same decision as the low-income parents drawn to Success Academy. Both groups are voting with their feet and committing their own resources — money or time — to ensure that their children go to school with the children of similarly engaged and motivated parents.

To deny low-income families of color the ability to self-select into safe and well-run schools with high expectations is to impose mediocrity on them, ostensibly for the public good. It is a burden that no affluent family is asked or expected to bear. Ms. Moskowitz insists that even if she were allowed to, she would not screen and handpick applicants instead of admitting families by lottery. “I wouldn’t do it,” she told me, “because I don’t think I could tell who they are.” Perhaps not, but she has created a mechanism for those families to identify themselves.

Ms. Moskowitz’s many critics will look at the small but non-trivial hurdles parents must clear as proof that she is not running great schools, merely a sorting mechanism. But this ignores what’s most remarkable about Success Academy: Its schools don’t just match those of affluent suburban districts but easily outperform them. Working with self-selected families under careful conditions, Ms. Moskowitz hasn’t merely closed the achievement gap. She has reversed it.

The politics of education reform require that we be less than candid about all of this self-sorting, but the upshot for rich and poor alike is clear: School culture and parent buy-in matter. The brand of education pioneered by Success Academy may indeed be “not for everyone,” but its schools are well run, not the joyless and militaristic hothouses critics imagine. They serve much the same role as Catholic schools did for previous generations of striving New Yorkers. Success Academy suggests the upper limits of what is possible when a critical mass of active and engaged families of color, who happen to be poor, are given permission to exercise the same degree of choice as affluent families.

But this all must be done sotto voce. One former Success Academy school leader whom I interviewed struck a philosophical tone. “Is it really such a bad thing that this is basically an elite private school that admits by lottery?” he asked. “It’s the first time folks in the inner city have had that chance.”

It’s not a bad thing. The disparity of opportunity afforded to rich and poor Americans is what must change. The privileged are unfettered in their pursuit of an excellent education for their children; the rest get “equity.” Worse, we are forced to be dishonest in arguments both for and against charter schools, resorting to aspirational, politically pleasing narratives about what it takes to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children. It’s time to stop airbrushing parents out of the picture and to acknowledge the sometimes uncomfortable truth that their role is indispensable.

— Mr. Pondiscio is senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and teaches at Democracy Prep Public Schools, a charter school network in New York City. This essay is adapted from his book “How the Other Half Learns: Equity, Excellence and the Battle Over School Choice,” which will be published on Sept. 10 by Avery.

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This was originally posted on Medium

I’m glad to s​​ee the College Board acknowledge its mistake and scrap the “adversity score” it proposed two years ago that has been used as a pilot by some colleges. The CB created this score as a single number to describe a students’ adversity. As I see it, the adversity score was an attempt to try to find those “diamonds in the rough” that colleges seek — children whose lives have had much adversity and yet the overcame them and prevailed.

But, the adversity score created backlash and claims of CB overreach, as well as confusion and misperceptions, as the CB chief executive acknowledged today.

So, the CB is scrapping it. Stay tuned, however, as the CB is now creating something called the “Landscape.” It will provide data points but not a single number for a student. Let’s see where that goes.

In the meantime, while the CB is in a “scrapping” and rebuilding mood, let’s hope it (and the ACT) finally reviews its 2003 decision that allows s some students to have so-called “accommodations” that fundamentally alter the SAT — like extended time — without notifying anyone that the standardized “timed” test no longer is. As I see it, this serious error is partially to blame for the Varsity Blues Scandal. Having extra time on the SAT was a far-too-attractive option that some parents even cheated for.

Let me be very clear. The issue is not whether students can have extra time. They can. That’s not in dispute.

In order to explain what is in dispute, a few definitions may be helpful. Let’s call changes in how a test is administered, “adaptations.” Adaptations are generally provided so students can access a test and demonstrate what they know and can do. Adaptations come in two very different flavors — “accommodations” and “modifications.” Accommodations provide access and don’t fundamentally alter a test; modifications also provide access but they do fundamentally alter a test. Although they are very very different from each other, the press too often lump both types of adaptations together and calls them all “accommodations” — a misleading and confusing lumping.

The use of extended time for the SAT is a modification because it fundamentally changes the test. The SAT is no longer a standardized timed test. On the other hand, the use of large print, Braille, or a quiet room is an accommodation because none of them fundamentally alters the SAT.

My concern is about modifications, not accommodations. This is especially so because, by far, the most often sought after (and provided) modification of the SAT (and ACT) is extended time. That’s the sought-after “prize,” as we have sadly come to learn. No line of parents seeks Braille or a quiet room.

So what’s the problem? As I see it, it’s the College Board’s policy that lacks transparency. It’s not the use of time; it’s the total lack of transparency about that modification. Current policy allows some students more time but does not notify test score recipients (like college admissions officers) of the nonstandard condition under which that test score was obtained. What now do the scores mean? Nobody can know.

Let’s be honest. The SAT is no longer a timed test. Now some 4–5% of scores are obtained with modifications. This is especially troubling because, we know that extra time helps advanced students obtain a higher score. These are the very students competing with others for slots at selective colleges and universities. An extended time test is a different test. And yet nobody knows! Score reports are silent.

While the CB is in rethink mode, let’s hope it finally scraps its old wrong policy. It is misleading. It hurts students. It leads to misuse.

The College Board has many options for maintaining a valid and standardized SAT, while also allowing students who need extra time to have it. For many years, I’ve written about several of these options, including: notify test score users when a test is given under a nonstandard condition, and/or let anyone have extra time without need for a disability diagnosis, with the understanding that there will be a notice of the use of that modification in the score report, or stop timing the SAT for everyone. I urge the College Board to finally “scrap” the current system and create a fair and valid SAT.

This was originally posted on Medium

Go, Teen Vogue!

Here’s an important story in Teen Vogue about how the SAT and ACT are manipulated — and mostly, about how neither company (the College Board’s Educational Testing Service and the ACT)has taken decisive action to guarantee the validity of these tests. Little tweaks will not do it!

This is a good read! You’ll see me quoted toward the end of the piece (in bold), about the flawed accommodations policy of these two companies have implemented since 2003 ( basically, continuing to time these tests (for still unexplained reasons)… but not notifying test score users when extra time is given to some students) and how that has played out in the last 16 years. An unfortunate and sad tale, as I see it.


Why It’s So Easy to Cheat on College Admissions Tests Like the SAT

Schooled is a series that explores the nuances of the American education system by reporter Zach Schermele, an incoming freshman at Columbia University.


When the college admissions scandal was first unveiled by the Justice Department in March, the scintillating story now known as “Operation Varsity Blues” grabbed headlines worldwide. With competition for spots at elite schools growing ever more fierce, federal prosecutors alleged that wealthy parents paid between $15,000 and $75,000 to doctor their children’s standardized test scores. That was just the tip of the iceberg in that particular scandal, which was dramatic enough to get green-lit as a Lifetimemovie.

But to students in the thick of an increasingly cutthroat college admissions game — admission rates at top schools are still dropping to record or near-record lows — the pervasiveness of cheating on standardized tests was never a surprise.

“Going into my first SAT, a kid I knew asked me if he could cheat off me,” Caroline Skoglund, a rising senior at Darien High School in Connecticut, told Teen Vogue. Caroline refused. She had spent over 100 hours studying for the test, often working through dinner and sacrificing going out with her friends. It wasn’t her first encounter with students who wanted to cheat on arguably one of the most important tests in a high schooler’s life.

“I’ve heard kids walk out of the test and brag to their friends about how they copied answers from someone else,” she said. Caroline took the test four times before scoring in the 99th percentile — an achievement she’s proud of. But she also recognizes what she called a “frustrating” truth: “Many people simply cheat.”

Though some predicted Operation Varsity Blues would transform the way testing security is managed by the billion-dollar organizations that administer standardized tests, critics say real, substantive change has not been made in response. They say a lack of transparency from the largest test administrators in the U.S. — the College Board, which decides how the SAT and other tests are administered, as well as ACT — has led to uncertainty about how prevalent cheating really is on their exams.

One college student from California, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Teen Vogue that cheating on the SAT four years ago helped her get into a top-40 university. Because the exam was (and still is) administered across the U.S. on the same day, test-takers on the East Coast finished before she did, allowing her to find the answers on her phone during bathroom breaks.

“The East Coast kids are out and will start discussing questions on College Confidential,” she said, referring to an online college admissions forum. The student claimed proctors could neither stop her from using the restroom nor pat her down to feel for a cell phone — “so there was virtually no way [the proctor] could know.” Technology of any form is technically prohibited inside the testing center, and students’ scores can be canceled on any college admissions exam if proctors catch them using devices like cell phones during the test.

Students in different time zones still take College Board–sanctioned exams like the SAT, SAT subject tests, and AP tests within a similar window, meaning the time-zone vulnerabilities she used to cheat are still exploitable. Two different types of AP tests are usually given on the same date, secretly divided into two sets across testing centers, experts told Teen Vogue. According to Brooke Hanson, CEO and founder of SuperTutorTV, in cases with which she’s familiar, “all students nationwide get the same form of the test” on October, March, and May SAT test dates, with some exceptions for the “experimental” questions. Hanson spoke from personal experience and admitted individuals might get different tests if they’ve requested accommodations, and in general, cases involving accommodations, test-takers over the age of 18, and potential “foul play” may result in further scrutiny.

Students can take the ACT anywhere the test is offered in the U.S., and although the College Board would not independently verify similar rules for the SAT, testing experts told Teen Vogue that is still the case.

“Generally students can register for any SAT test given anywhere,” Hanson told Teen Vogue. “I’ve had students at camp in Michigan take the SAT in that state or if they’re out of town in NYC, take it there. I’ve also had international students fly to the U.S. to take the test here during the summer or on dates not offered abroad.”

Only proctors and sometimes test administrators, who are often strangers to students, are responsible for verifying their identities (unless an investigation is opened). In 2011, 20 teenagers involved in an alleged SAT cheating ring in Long Island were accused of criminal impersonation, scheming to defraud, and falsifying business records; many of them took the test outside of their own school district. In 2015, 15 Chinese students were accused of paying impostors to take tests, including the SAT, for them using fake passports at test centers in Pennsylvania. The lead defendant, who allegedly held an organizing role in the ring, later pleaded guilty; several others were deported. It is unclear whether any of the accused in either case were acquitted. But many of the exploitable rules around approved test-taking locations don’t appear to have verifiably changed.

And though high-stakes heists make big news, less sophisticated cases of cheating go virtually unnoticed. Another student, who also wished to remain anonymous, told Teen Vogue the ACT proctors at his school are “teachers who don’t really care enough to stop cheating.” According to the student, who currently attends a large public high school of several thousand students, copying from nearby answer sheets and whispering during the exam are common occurrences.

“AP exams are a joke,” he continued, referring to a test administered by the College Board and ETS. He said students are in a gym or classroom, “where every test form is the same, so cheating off the people near you is easy.”

“Parents are proctors and oblivious,” he said. The student’s school has not yet responded to Teen Vogue’s request for comment.

“The time restrictions on the ACT are way too difficult,” said another student, who told Teen Vogue he cheated on the ACT in June. The student spoke on the condition of anonymity and admitted using extra time during an ungraded portion of the test to flip back in his booklet and answer questions from the English section he hadn’t been able to finish.

“I don’t think time should be such a critical factor in a test like this, so that sort of justified cheating in my head,” he said. He claimed the extra time improved his score significantly.

Both the College Board and ACT do offer extended time to students who can show a medical history of a learning disability. Examples of affluent parents exploiting these “testing accommodations” with fraudulent doctor’s notes were widely cited in the Varsity Blues scandal, and a recent New York Times analysis found that 504 designations, which give test-takers extra time based on physical or mental impairments, are disproportionately common in rich communities. In a 2003 essay titled “Disabling the SAT,” education lawyer Miriam Kurtzig Freedman predicted that accommodations would lead to a phenomenon she called “diagnosis shopping.”

“These savvy parents now know that if they’re looking ahead to Billy or Johnny going to college and having to take the SAT or the ACT in junior year, they better get these [medical plans] in place early,” Freedman told Teen Vogue. “It’s totally dysfunctional, and it’s created by these organizations who are beholden to nobody.”

Freedman has been a vocal critic of the College Board and ACT especially after Operation Varsity Blues, calling them “extremely closed and nontransparent” organizations. Ed Colby, the senior director of media and public relations for ACT, said in a statement to Teen Vogue, “ACT takes test security very seriously, and we are continually working to enhance and enforce our test security measures.”

“We do not provide specific details about those measures for security reasons,” Colby said. A link to ACT’s website (provided by Colby) states, “We conduct extensive, and proactive analyses of our testing data in search of irregularities that could indicate misconduct.” ACT representatives also make unannounced visits to test centers and maintain a testing security hotline, according to the website.

A webpage created by the College Board after the Varsity Blues scandal erupted states the organization has since added personnel to its testing security team, among other measures. In a statement to Teen Vogue, College Board spokeswoman Jaslee Carayol would only specify one example of “an action [College Board] took in response” to Operation Varsity Blues, and added, “For security reasons, we cannot provide specifics about our approach.”

“In all but the rarest circumstances, students will take the test only at their schools or during a weekend session,” she said, referring to accommodation requests (students who do not request extra time on the test can still test anywhere in the U.S., according to testing experts). “If a student must take a test elsewhere, we will carefully confirm their need to test at an alternate location and the security of that location.”

The Educational Testing Service, which is hired by the College Board to develop and administer its exams, did not respond to Teen Vogue’s multiple requests for comment.

Whether many test-taking rules are followed, however, depends entirely on the people who proctor the tests, and while criteria do exist spelling out who can do the job, the College Board and ACT’s proctor requirements do not appear to have changed since one proctor and two test administrators were indicted as part of Operation Varsity Blues, the proctor pleading guilty. They were accused of playing various roles in falsifying students’ scores. The accused test administrators have pleaded not guilty.

“It might be smart for the test-makers to incorporate a stronger vetting process and require training,” Sam Pritchard, the director of College Prep Programs at Kaplan Test Prep, told Teen Vogue. “More oversight seems warranted in that it may prevent more cheating and also restore faith by test-takers and their parents, not to mention colleges who want to know that applicants’ scores are their own.”

Critics say that without testing representatives actively willing or knowledgeable enough to enforce the rules at the ground level, systemic cheating isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

“They certainly haven’t gone to the root cause of what their problem is,” Freedman said. “All they’re trying to do is clean up little messes here and there.”

This was originally posted on Medium