Its college acceptance season. For some, the mail will bring life-changing news crediting a lifetime of hard work and personal discipline. For others, the reach proved unreachable and the disappointment is heart breaking. For all, it’s a nerve-wracking, nail-biting, sleep-losing process. And, for parents, it’s the first of many of their children’s milestones that are beyond their control. Or, is it? Turns out, not always.
Students with special needs, learning disabilities, classifications, and IEPs receive critical and necessary support. Often, this means examinations are administered in separate rooms with extended or even unlimited time to complete the test. For most students in high school, the difference between an A or a B is less their mastery of the materials and more the time constraints designed to ensure the subject matter has not merely been learned but the ease with which the information can be summoned, applied, and communicated. Every thoroughbred can cross the finish line; but the most successful must do it within a challenging amount of time.
For those with special needs, the narrow allotment of time is often an unfair and prejudicial evaluation of what they have achieved and, for them, an inaccurate barometer of what they are capable of.
As an attorney who has spent a fair amount of time advocating for such students, I am the first in line to testify as to the life-changing and critically important efficacy of these programs. It is not about those students to whom this piece is addressed.
But, imagine the improbable scenario of a student without legitimate needs, disabilities or challenges given the advantages of educational support. Imagine two identical students, one must complete a high level physics exam in 55 minutes. The other gets 2 hours. Maybe one is given access to the examination in advance. Imagine both are placed in high honors classes and the transcripts do not reflect the advantages but merely recite high honor-level grades. You are beginning to see the problem.
Improbable? Now imagine it’s happening in schools across the nation, and consider that the better universities only accept 1 or 2 students per school. Should the coveted spot go to the student who is scamming his way to the top of the class?
You see, one cannot merely announce a special need or learning disability in order to take full advantage of the support available. As you would expect, it requires professional analysis and a medical diagnosis. It requires independent and verifiable proof that the need exists. Which is why almost all cases of educational support are valid and legitimate. It would take a particularly crowded bank account, an ethically challenged parent, and an even more ethically challenged healthcare professional to conspire to pull this off. But it’s possible. And, make no mistake, it’s happening.
Is this easy to prove? Or prevent? No. Certainly not without rigorous testing and multiple second-opinions. And, that would be unfair and cost prohibitive to the overwhelming majority of families who have legitimate needs and use the system fairly and with compassion.
Some have suggested that students with classifications should simply not be permitted to join high honors classes, which might de-incentivize the practice. But, I am not sure that’s fair or even legal. And, I am not sure it would de-incentivize the practice. Others have suggested a second level of inquiry where there is suspicion of abuse by consensus of educators. That might work. But it raises other complications.
The solution to a complicated problem is beyond the scope of this piece and may be elusive in the short term. But, there are a growing number of parents who are rightfully outraged. The solution will come when enough people demand it. I hope that day is nearing.