The College Board announced Monday that it will stop notifying universities and colleges when disabled students receive extra time or other special accommodations on the SAT college entrance exam.
Such flagging of disabled students' results had been decried as discriminatory by advocates for the disabled who sought its end. But with the notification now dropped, some educators and admissions officers are concerned that more test-takers may fraudulently seek designation as disabled.
About 2% of the 2 million high school students who take the SAT each year receive special accommodations--usually extra time on the test--because of documented disabilities, the College Board said. Their scores are marked with an asterisk to let college admissions officers know that the test was taken under "nonstandard" conditions.
The College Board will end the practice after September 2003 as part of a legal settlement announced Monday with an Oakland-based nonprofit law firm, Disability Rights Advocates.
The decision to drop the flagging also will apply to the PSAT--the practice version of the SAT--and the Advanced Placement exams. Those tests, along with the SAT, are owned by the New York-based College Board.
Alison Aubrejuan, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, praised Monday's agreement as "tremendously significant" for people with disabilities.
"The SAT is taken by millions of students every year," Aubrejuan said. "This will end a discriminatory practice and make higher education much more accessible to people with disabilities."
But some educators and college admissions officials say they worry that the change, given the nationwide frenzy over college admissions, could induce many more students, including some without actual physical or learning disabilities, to apply for more time on the test.
The growing use of accommodations--especially by white, affluent students--has drawn criticism in recent years. Two years ago, a study by the California state auditor--prompted by a Los Angeles Times investigation--found that private school students were four times as likely as public school students to receive the extra time. Most of those received diagnoses of learning disabilities.
"It's a major concern," said Bruce Poch, dean of admissions at Pomona College in Claremont. "We're going to see a flood of people who will exploit this even more than they do to this point. There are a whole lot of kids who are able to go out and get a diagnosis for a fee, including some who may not have done that before because of the flag on their score."
Poch said Monday's decision could hurt those with real disabilities by making it harder for college admission officials to identify students who legitimately need the accommodations.
The agreement grew out of a 2001 settlement in a federal lawsuit brought against the College Board's for-profit arm, the Educational Testing Service, on behalf of Mark Breimhorst, a man with a physical disability who was rejected by business schools after his GMAT scores were flagged. In the settlement last year, the testing service said it would eliminate flagging on the GMAT and other tests. The agreement did not apply to the SAT or other tests owned by the College Board, but the board agreed to appoint a panel to examine the issue.
In a recommendation made public Monday and adopted by the board, the panel urged an end to the practice of flagging.
"We wanted to do what was fair and right and professional, and the majority of the panel said the right thing to do was to stop flagging," Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, said Monday.