The Cheat Sheet: On Playing by the Rules when Others Don’t

The agony of the college boards–worse for dyslexic students, but apparently non-existent for those who hire test-takers!

By Cheri Rae

Our boys were on the baseball field, getting ready to play yet another game. A fellow baseball mom turned to me and said, “Do you really think it’s fair, just because he has dyslexia, for your son to get extra time on tests when my son doesn’t?” Her son was a straight-A student for his entire academic life, enrolled in AP classes and headed to a top Division One college.

I was shocked at the question, and explained that accommodations leveled the playing field for my son, and yes, I did think it was fair. She clearly didn’t. That fundamental misunderstanding is obviously more widespread than I ever imagined.

This is what I flashed on this morning when I hear of the scandal that’s rocking the college applications process—parents getting “extra time on tests” for students who don’t need it, paying to get into universities, and generally cheating the system.

When you play by the rules, it isn’t that easy.

My dyslexic son had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) since third grade; the special education document supposedly guaranteed that he would receive necessary individualized instruction and accommodations to allow him to access the typical curriculum throughout his public schooling. He didn’t, but that’s another story for another time.

It also supposedly provided documentation to guarantee he would receive accommodations in his standardized testing for college—that is the SAT and the ACT. Those accommodations included extra time, a different setting, a scribe and a reader.

But it wasn’t as simple as it sounds.

Our first request to the College Board was denied for inadequate documentation. I guess that eight years just wasn’t enough proof of need. Finally, we were granted permission, and assurance that on testing day he would receive all the accommodations to which he was entitled.

He didn’t.

On test day, his testing materials were nowhere to be found. He was sent to one office and another and finally denied the opportunity to take the ACT on the Saturday he had dedicated to it—missing a pre-season Varsity baseball game in the process. He was furious, embarrassed and deflated at the very notion that he’d ever be considered “college material” if he couldn’t even take the test.

It was the last thing a dyslexic would-be college student needed at that moment. But the bureaucracy runs the show.

It took some time to figure out what when wrong, but we finally learned that the testing materials had been sent to the high school, but had been misplaced in some counselor’s office. As the packet sat there on the top shelf, no one ever bothered to make certain that the designated scribe/reader would be available—despite assurances earlier in the week that everything was in order. .

Through countless phone calls and emails, a new date was scheduled—on the first day of the winter holiday vacation. My son was not happy about any of this, and frankly not very motivated to “do his best” on a standardized academic test that has nothing to do with his intelligence, creativity or unique problem-solving abilities. .

Once again, he missed a Varsity baseball game, and was in trouble with his coach.

This time, the taxpayers had to pay extra for the services of a scribe/reader to administer the test during holiday time. Finally, the stressful day of taking the ACT was behind us.

When the scores arrived in the mail, they were as mediocre as we predicted, and we simply filed them away; another hoop jumped through in the game of applying for college. My son’s heart was not in it—he had experienced enough dyslexia-related trauma in school that the classroom was hardly the place he wanted to spend four more years, even if it meant the opportunity to play Division One baseball.

So when the recruiters came calling and the scholarship offers were made no one at any institution seemed to care about his test scores. My son demurred, and finally declared he needed a gap year to think things over, a great decision for him. In the end, he declined the baseball-related opportunities and scholarships and attended City College instead.

He objected to signing up with the office of Disability Services and Programs for Students, and never used any accommodations during his college years. And more importantly, every point, every grade he chalked up in all those classes was earned on his own merit—and sometimes it was very, very difficult for him.

Sometimes he had to drop a class after he bombed a test; sometimes that would have a terrible effect on his GPA as a result. But just as he would never cheat at baseball, he would never cheat in school. He wasn’t raised that way.

As this testing-admissions scandal breaks, I feel sick and disgusted at the very idea of these wealthy parents, these institutions and these entitled students conspiring to use ill-gotten opportunities to advance their own interests. Appropriate accommodations are difficult enough to get for hard-working dyslexic students who need them in this public schools not designed to meet their needs.

Yet haven’t we all heard special education officials refer to how parents of freshman students get them “diagnosed” with ADD so they can get accommodations for extra time on the college boards. They have to have those accommodations in place for a couple of years, they note. How dare these elites work the system—which will likely have negative effects on students whose moral compasses would never allow them to cheat.

If there’s any good to come of this, it might be in exposing, finally, an increasingly competitive and corrupt approach to education, as well as the absurdity of relying on standardized testing that measures nothing of value at all.