Operation Varsity Blues targeted wealthy parents, such as Full House star Lori Loughlin and actress Felicity Huffman, for bribing their children’s way into top colleges. However, The Wall Street Journal recently reported on another admissions scandal abused by wealthy parents: the loophole of extra time.
The newspaper uncovered a shocking disparity in the students at elite schools receiving extra time compared to schools in poorer neighborhoods.
The Journal uncovered that Scarsdale High School, located in the affluent Westchester County north of New York, reported that one in five students received extra time or another accommodation for the SAT or ACT tests. It was even worse at Weston High School in Connecticut, where one in four received accommodations. In the wealthy Boston suburb of Newton, it was one in three.
Newton Superintendent David Fleishman admitted that the abuse of the system, designed to help those with legitimate learning disabilities, is an “issue” for the area.
“Do I think that more than 30 percent of our students have a disability? No. We have a history of over-identification [as learning-challenged] that is certainly an issue in the district.”
The special accommodations, most commonly issued as “504 designations” were originally designed to help those with learning disabilities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, or anxiety. However, some fear that students are faking disabilities to get extra time, and thus raise their scores in a college application process that is becoming more and more competitive.
Many psychologists and teachers have said that parents are often leading the charge to get the special designations.
“Parents want to do what’s in the best interest of their child and want to provide them with opportunities and support,” said Jeffrey Davis, the principal of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School. “They talk to their friends and their neighbors and realize their kids are getting extra support and that they might be able to get it, too.”
Oren Boxer, a clinical neuropsychologist in West Los Angeles, added that parents will often pay to get their desired diagnoses.
“They’re going to find the people that can help their students get these accommodations. With enough money, you can get unscrupulous people who are willing to interpret something a different way.”
In public schools in wealthy neighborhoods, an average of 4.2 percent of students have 504 designations — almost always manifested as extra time. In poorer neighborhoods, this number drops radically, to 1.6 percent.
Critics have also pointed out that less wealthy students are likely unable to pay for the testing to receive the necessary diagnosis for a “504 designation,” even for legitimate cases, disenfranchising poor students even further.
Moreover, many have pointed out that certain students do genuinely need the system, as it helps level the playing field for those with test-taking issues.
Though private schools don’t use 504 or Individualized Education Program designations, The Wall Street Journal added that a “significant” portion of students unsurprisingly received some version of extra time from their reporting.