Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Student Note on SAT Flagging

New on Westlaw is a great student note: Nancy Leong, Beyond Breimhorst: Appropriate Accommodation of Students with Learning Disabilities on the SAT, 57 Stan. L. Rev. 2135 (2005). From the introduction:

The Breimhorst result ultimately creates an untenable situation. Although flagging was undeniably stigmatizing to students with disabilities and should not be reinstituted, simply removing the flags without modifying the format of the SAT impairs the validity of the test and creates undesirable incentives for fraud. This Comment argues that the best way for the College Board to circumvent these unappealing alternatives is to eliminate speed as a factor on the SAT.

This debate over accommodation for students with learning disabilities has made salient a larger problem: the SAT is not intended to test speed, yet for many students, the time limit affects their scores. However, the learning disability context provides a useful forum for discussing these issues, while the Breimhorst settlement creates an immediate incentive to address them.

The Comment is divided into three Parts. Part I provides background, demonstrating that some, though not all, students with learning disabilities qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Given the College Board's concession that the SAT is not intended to measure speed, such students consequently qualify for extended time on the SAT.

Part II addresses the tension between providing accommodation and preserving the validity of the SAT. Because some students without learning disabilities would also benefit from extended time, granting such accommodation inflates the scores of students with learning disabilities. Flagging was an undesirable way of signaling potential score incomparability because the stigmatization resulting from flagging conflicted with the spirit of the law and made disabled students vulnerable to discrimination. However, the Breimhorst solution of simply removing the flags compromises the validity of the test and encourages students to seek inappropriate accommodation.

Part III proposes two alternatives to mitigate the current situation. The more conservative approach attacks the problem of improper accommodation by restricting eligibility for accommodation to those students whose thoroughly documented learning disabilities merit accommodation under the ADA. However, this approach ultimately provides only a partial solution: even if every student who receives accommodation has a legitimate learning disability, the issue of test validity still remains. The best way for testing services to address this problem is to modify the test to reflect its stated purpose of measuring problem-solving ability rather than speed. Recent research suggesting that speed is not a factor for most students on the new SAT indicates progress toward this goal, yet ETS still retains time limits for nondisabled test takers. As long as these time limits prove to be an issue for some students, the SAT will remain an inequitable assessment.


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