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"The College Admissions Scandal: When 'Disability' is an 'Elite' status"

Written By:

Mike Reynolds

Recently, society was shocked by a scandal involving its richest and most elite. It was exposed that the tools meant to aid victims of systemic oppression were being abused to benefit children of affluent families in their admittance to prestigious colleges. People went as far as photoshopping photos and faking athletic ability to get onto university teams to bolster their applications.


Sadly, much of the media’s fixation on the scandal surrounds the involvement of famous individuals such as actresses and designers. Little of the media’s discourse attempts to explain the issues of legally-mandated accommodations for disabled students. While these lackluster laws were created in hope in an effort to provide an equal playing field for all students, they often just create the illusion of equality. This frequently makes things worse by suppressing the opinions of those experiencing inequalities and by undermining potentially successful solutions for the roots of the issues.

The reality is that the tests needed for admissions to most schools in the US are administered by The College Board. The College Board, based in New Jersey, is a corporation with a complete monopoly on everything related to college admissions. The College Board administers a variety of tests for a broad range of subjects, and a student may end up taking over a dozen tests before an admission application is even looked at.

A multi-million dollar test preparation industry has flourished as college admissions have become increasingly competitive. Since the introduction of the “common application” by the College Board, students are applying to significantly more schools than ever before, some to the point of dozens. Studies have revealed that some preparation programs can massively increase total testing points, making the “equal playing field” aspect of testing questionable at best.


High scores on the AP exam yield many benefits, including but not limited to college credit and preferential treatment. The College Board also covers testing for Graduate and Law and other professional schools after the Undergraduate years. In the State of Maine, The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) is given to all students in Junior Year of High School as an assessment test. Colleges often use SAT scores as a determining factor in  offering scholarships or other opportunities, such as admissions to Honors Programs, where students are offered classes and independent study opportunities reserved “for the smartest people in your class.”


As a student with a Disability, I have a unique perspective: I took the SAT twice, once untimed, once timed. I’m not exactly sure how the College Board currently administers the accommodations for the SAT, but when I took it, the untimed option was only offered twice a year, which did not leave me any real choice but to take it untimed the second time I was administered the test. Bizarrely enough, I scored higher on the timed administration, by such a significant amount that I wonder if I wasted my efforts in getting the documentation and the forms for taking the test untimed.


I count myself lucky- I got a good enough education to get into the college that I wanted, and I  received an excellent education where I went. The fact that the rich bought their way in via bribes multiple times the tuition costs just demonstrates the class inequality of college admissions. This doesn’t even begin to consider other factors such as legacy admissions and the unique problems faced by those at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and so on. Consider this on top of the mounting difficulties of transitioning to a post-secondary education world, and we can begin to see a fraction of the ways in which the not-rich are disadvantaged time and time again throughout their education.


I propose a radical change that may benefit everyone: Simply make the tests for undergraduate admissions all untimed. Students with Disabilities are usually limited to the dates that accommodations are given, but this would do away with that obstacle as well as close up one possible way an unscrupulous person could “game the system." It would not eliminate the inequality in society, but given that a significant percentage of mental health issues and learning disabilities are not identified until adulthood, it seems only logical.


Unfortunately, The College Board is not concerned with logic. With a monopoly on the tests that determine college admissions, why would they admit anything was or is wrong? Whether or not you agree with it, the SAT is far too important for the College Board (and the colleges who use their tests) to easily shift its use. In 2006, The College Board added a written section, but has removed it from its current tests since it became clear that the scores could be manipulated via specific word usage and certain grammatical techniques. The College Board and the tests they administer may not be directly implicated by anyone in the scandal based in California, and maybe that’s a decent thing. While it is frustrating beyond words to read about a professional test taker knowing the test well enough to be able to “score on demand”, at least there is some hope that he was taking the same test as any other college-aspiring student. The privilege and power that come with being in the top one percent still don’t guarantee success on the College Board Tests. Maybe the disability accommodations serve as a plot device, or a sad plot twist. Either way, it is difficult to see how anyone actually wins currently, and it’s clear that the biggest losers are the disabled and poor.

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