The allegations in the college admissions scandal suggest a multi-pronged assault on our sense of fairness: One prong is that unqualified children of the wealthy were cutting in line ahead of students more qualified academically; another is that college coaches in lower-profile sports, such as rowing or soccer, accepted students onto their teams despite the students never having played that sport, leaving us to wonder how many academically qualified student-athletes were denied athletic scholarships because of such fraud.
A third prong allegedly involves ethically questionable doctors.
William “Rick” Singer, a college admittance coach turned fixer at the center of the charges filed by federal prosecutors on March 12 in Boston, told parents to have their children fake a learning disability to obtain a doctor’s note for extended time on exams, the Wall Street Journal reports. Singer then bribed a proctor at a specific location and flew a test taker there to either take the test for the student or change the students’ answers.
The accommodations program that Singer took advantage of helps students with certain disabilities have a fair shot at succeeding as well as their peers and is mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Students may need extra time on an exam, use a scribe to transfer answers to a Scantron bubble sheet, or a distraction-free room to aid focus.
The scheme included parents bringing their children to a psychologist — often one hand-selected by Singer himself — to fake a disability that eventually qualified them for extended or unlimited time to take the SAT or ACT and also to take the test in a room by themselves, USNews.com reported.
But the specific act of fraudulently obtaining a testing accommodation — a civil right for people with disabilities under federal law — prompted outcry from advocates of students with disabilities.
“There have been major federal laws passed to ensure that individuals who have disabilities receive these types of accommodations,” said Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “The reason they need an accommodation is to mitigate the disability. When they receive the accommodation it’s meant to make the testing environment similar to that for a person without a disability.
“It’s so frustrating, because the people who will be hurt by this will be the ones who need the accommodations. And it’s not going to be in the news when they’re hurt by this. It will be in those quiet moments, where they’re sitting in the disability office.”
The Learning Disabilities Association of America was one of the first groups to issue a statement about the indictments, InsideHigherEd.com reported.
“These actions hurt all individuals with disabilities, including those with learning disabilities, by perpetuating the misperceptions that many students who obtain accommodations on college admissions do not have disabilities and that this abuse is widespread,” said the statement. “Every year thousands of individuals with learning disabilities apply for and are appropriately granted accommodations, including extended time, for the college admissions exams such as the SAT and ACT. The testing entities’ well-established and rigorous process to apply for and obtain accommodations for individuals with disabilities protects the rights of those with disabilities. The small number of students implicated in the FBI investigation demonstrates that it is very rare for a student without a disability to obtain testing accommodations.”
That being said, faking a learning disability is an egregious abuse that will only make it harder for those who truly suffer from such disabilities to have to fight harder to prove it.
“It’s so frustrating, because the people who will be hurt by this will be the ones who need the accommodations.” Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities