Widening the Gap between Rich and Poor
- Subject: Widening the Gap between Rich and Poor
- From: William Cala <wcala@ROCHESTER.RR.COM>
- Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2002 20:33:03 -0400
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
This practice should further widen the advantage gap between the rich and poor.
September 26, 2002
Paying for a Disability Diagnosis to Gain Time on College Boards
By JANE GROSS
HITE PLAINS, Sept. 25 - Dr. Dana Luck and Dr. Steven Mattis work in a modest suite of offices here, in the shadow of Westchester County's fanciest mall. The sign on their door reads "Center for Neuropsychological Services." These days, for the two educational psychologists, that often means the diagnosis and treatment of learning disabilities.
Clients pay $2,400 for a battery of tests and an evaluation, $200 an hour for psychotherapy and $250 an hour more if Dr. Luck or Dr. Mattis visit a high school or the Educational Testing Service to lobby for a learning-disabled student who is not getting the special services the law requires.
Lately, Drs. Luck and Mattis are seeing many parents and college-bound teenagers who want only one thing: a diagnosis that will entitle the youngster to additional time to take the Scholastic Assessment Tests. They assume this has something to do with a recent decision by the College Board to remove the asterisk flagging the scores of disabled students who take the exam under various special conditions.
"More and more people are asking legitimately," Dr. Luck said. "But more and more are also asking because, why not ask? It's part of our culture that every point matters, so they're looking for any kind of edge," including time and a half or double time on the stressful three-hour exam.
In Westchester County, which is typical of many wealthy, highly competitive communities, a dozen educational psychologists acknowledged this kind of diagnosis-shopping in the wake of the College Board's announcement that it would unflag scores of learning-disabled students.
Dr. Jeanne Dietrich, a psychologist in White Plains, said she had five such requests this summer, more than ever before in that slow season. Each parent reported that "a child had bombed the SAT" and wanted a quick diagnosis because the application deadline was nearing for the next round of tests. Four agreed to a thorough evaluation and one hung up, Dr. Dietrich said.
The asterisk indicating that extended time and other accommodations were made to the test-takers will disappear from student records a year from now and will be removed retroactively from tests taken previously. That means 30,000 students, or 2 percent of the 1.3 million high school seniors who sit for the College Boards each year, will submit scores to colleges as if they had been tested under the same conditions as everyone else.
This change, part of the settlement of a 1999 lawsuit, has been hailed by disability rights groups and many educators who see unflagged, extended-time testing as a way to level the playing field for those with learning disorders.
"Everybody has heard stories of rejections," said Dr. Richard F. Heath, a psychologist who runs the support program for learning-disabled students at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Rockland County. "That anxiety will be completely alleviated without the asterisk."
But others worry that the unflagging of scores will be an invitation for accelerated abuse among some well-to-do families who have already been diagnosis-shopping and thus cheapen the claims of the truly disabled while widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
"This further privileges the privileged," said Jane Brown, the vice president who oversees admissions at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., which is in the second year of a five-year research project on the effect of making the tests optional. "You have to be able to afford a diagnosis."
Dr. Alan Wachtel, a New York City psychiatrist with a specialty in attention deficit disorder, said it was "regrettably true" that some parents bid for the services of "hired guns." Their behavior contributed to an adversarial attitude in certain schools, he said, where he is sometimes asked, "What are the parents paying you to say this?"
Judith Hirschhorn, director of secondary school special education in Armonk, said she had received several suspicious requests from 11th and 12th graders who had never sought services before, some on the suggestion of their private College Board tutors.
Jerry Wishner, chairman of the Committee on Special Education in Chappaqua, said that he had "never been approached only for the SAT," but added, "I can't say it's not done" by families elsewhere - or by those in his school who are seeking private evaluations in growing numbers. "That's their right," Dr. Wishner said, regretfully.
The ability of rich families, however small their numbers, essentially to buy the right to extended time on the College Boards highlights the most common criticisms of a test under siege. Detractors say that it is a proxy for affluence, not intelligence. They say scores are polluted by advantages such as $400-an-hour private tutoring and are therefore not meaningful measures.
Many educators, and the officials of the College Board, say that the small risk of abuse pales beside the unfairness of stigmatizing, or perhaps discriminating against, disabled test-takers. But to lessen that risk, the College Board, which owns the tests, recently beefed up its compliance department to audit and discipline high schools that seem to be granting an unreasonable number of accommodations.
College Board officials do not dispute that there is an unintended class bias in the granting of accommodations, although they say it is no worse than other inequities in the education system, be it outdated textbooks or overburdened guidance counselors.
"That's true wherever you look," said Chiara Coletti, the board's spokesman, who once held the comparable position for the New York City schools chancellor. The College Board also says it widely promotes test accommodations in handouts and on its Web site and wishes more inner-city schools used them but has no power to force the issue.
The College Board has no data on the demographic breakdown of requests for extended-time testing. But a study by the California state auditor several years ago showed one in four accommodations went to private school students.
The board does track the direct correlation between average family income and College Board scores: In 2002, those students whose families earned less than $10,000 a year scored 859 out of a possible 1600, while those earning more than $100,000 scored 1123.
Large inner-city high schools have neither resources nor time for sophisticated diagnosis and services. One psychologist in private practice who used to work in a Bronx public school guessed that half of the students there might have qualified for remediation but said that "the city would have gone broke." Ms. Hirschhorn, in Armonk, said that an underprivileged youngster was "not going to look like a child with a disability in a sea of children not doing well, and that's a heartbreak."
Government statistics show that 2.9 million children in public elementary and secondary schools are learning disabled, or 6 percent of the total. More than a quarter drop out. Of those who succeed in graduating from high school, 13 percent go on to a four-year college. But only 2 percent seek test accommodations. Once in college, 11 percent seek extra help. Access to extra help in college and a true appreciation for a disabled child's efforts could be adversely affected by the unflagging of test scores, some educators say, even as they applaud the anti-discriminatory sentiment behind the move.
Without the asterisk on College Board scores, nothing on a standard college application - including a transcript of courses and grades - would alert admissions officials to a diagnosis of a learning disability.
"If you use the information in a positive way, it creates a context," said Ms. Brown of Mount Holyoke. "You want to understand all the threads, the whole story, and position a student's accomplishments in light of the difficulties they've faced. And you want to know if you have adequate services for a student you've admitted."
Others worry that a school that admits a student not knowing about a disability might not even have the necessary services. "It's one thing to get in," said Frank Liana, one of New York City's leading private college counselors. "It's another thing to get what you need to succeed. Why do you even want them at a school that is biased against them and doesn't feel equipped to help?"
Drs. Luck and Mattis are less concerned with whether scores are flagged than they are with a test that they say consumes and distorts the last years of high school and inspires desperate requests. "It's not `Can you help us understand what's wrong with our child?' " Dr. Luck said. "It's `Can you help us document the need for more time on this test?' Students are anxious. Parents are anxious. The environment is anxious. But we would much rather debunk the myth of the SAT than help people work the loopholes."
Dr. Luck and Dr. Mattis say they gently explain to such families that they do not churn out diagnoses for anyone who can pay. Yes, they will fight for a child who they believe has been unfairly denied services at school or handle an appeal with the testing service. But only after an evaluation documents a real problem. "We give them our data and sometimes they will not hear it," Dr. Luck said. "So they get angry and go to someone else until they get what they want."
Post a Message to arn-l: