As many students struggle to bubble in all of their answers while taking the infamously time-crunched ACT, some are given between 50 and 100 percent more time to complete the exam. These students are recipients of extra time: a system created with the intent of equalizing the playing field for test-takers with learning disabilities.
Unfortunately, extra time has been exploited by some wealthy families who use their easy access to expensive medical professionals to give their children an upper hand in the college admissions process.
At private schools across the country, the pressure of getting into Ivy League schools looms over both students and their families. Driven by these competitive environments, I have seen more than a few of my classmates flock to specialists with the hopes of being diagnosed with a disorder that would qualify them for extra time on their entrance exams.
Up to 46 percent of students that attend private high schools are recipients of extra time, despite the fact that only five percent of the population has a learning disability, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. At our school, the number is around 11 percent, according to Learning Resource Specialist Grace Brown. This is less than the national average for private schools; however, these numbers still all suggest that a disproportionate share of students receive extra time on college entrance exams, while many of them do not genuinely qualify for it.
Low-income families with students who truly have these conditions often do not have the opportunity to see doctors that can diagnose their children and help them get the extra time they need to have a fair shot at taking the SAT or ACT.
Because most of these specialists are often expensive, not covered by insurance policies and only located in wealthy areas, they are inaccessible in more than one way for people without resources or connections.
The biggest and most common gripe against extra time is that it is not realistic. There is no extra time outside of the testing room, and oftentimes, this accommodation can give students an inaccurate expectation of how they might need to manage and cope with their disorders in the real world. While I do believe that this criticism has some merit, in a perfect world, giving students who truly need it a bit of extra time to take their exams would be beneficial in order to give them more time to process the question and focus on the task at hand.
Despite the benefits of extra time, it is extremely challenging to prevent it from being misapplied. There is no way to verify whether or not specialists are making uninfluenced diagnoses, nor is there a way for the College Board to account for resource inequities when handing out extra time.
Because of this, the usage of the extra time system is shifting to favor students who don’t truly need it and away from those with learning disabilities that it was meant to serve.
It is important to recognize that this corruption exists within the current extra time system and start a discussion that can return it to its original goal.
Correction (March 5): Five percent of the general population has a learning disability according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. A previous version of the article used a statistic from ABC News that two percent of the population has a learning disability.