The College Board has announced that beginning January 1, 2017, students who receive accommodations in school will automatically receive equivalent accommodations for all College Board exams (PSAT, SAT, SAT II, AP). 

According to the Washington Post

Early this year, as more states began to adopt the SAT or the ACT as a required test for high school students to take, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division began to look into complaints that the testing organizations were too stingy with accommodations to eligible students, Education Week reported.

In a new statement, David Coleman, president and chief executive of the College Board, said: “Educators, students, and families have asked us to simplify our process, and we’ve listened. The school staff knows their students best, and we want to cut down on the time and paperwork needed to submit a testing accommodations request.”

While this will obviously eliminate a major headache for many families, it probably isn’t overly cynical to assume that the College Board is making this move out of self-interest as well. 

Which of course brings us to the ACT. 

Now, the ACT is notoriously stingy about accommodations. I have had multiple students who were turned down after the initial request. Some appealed successfully; others did not. Even the successful appeals sometimes took months, and the extra time was only granted after a student had taken the ACT multiple times. 

In contrast, most of my students who required extra time were able to obtain it for the SAT easily, the first time the request was made. 

So while acquiring accommodations will undoubtedly become easier, it is questionable just how much of a broad-scale difference the change will make. It could very well make a huge difference, but I’d be hesitant to assume as much.

Given that the College Board is determined to wrest every inch of market share possible back from the ACT, it seems reasonable to assume that this announcement is in part a ploy to induce students who are on the fence between the SAT and the ACT, and who require accommodations, to opt for the former. 

So the question, now, is whether the ACT will come on board and relax restrictions on extra time as well.  

In addition, the effect of the change on student equity is questionable as well. In my (anecdotal, non-statistically backed-up experience), the students who receive accommodations in school tend to be those with the savviest, most persistent parents. Not coincidentally, those parents tend to be well-off and well-educated.

Some of their children have genuine learning disabilities — and I in no way intend to minimize the struggles of anyone in that category. For them, the College Board’s new policy will undoubtedly be a boon. 

That said, there is another category of students who do not truly have learning disabilities, but who have been enabled (by technology, by ineffective pedagogy, by an incoherent curriculum, by parents, by tutors, and even by therapists) to the point where their ability to complete work on their own, under standard conditions, is severely compromised.

In some cases, relatively small difficulties that nevertheless fall within the range of normal are overblown and pathologized by well-meaning adults, with the result that the line between a learning disability and the belief in a learning disability becomes blurred.

It’s not that the student doesn’t genuinely struggle. It’s that the student, given a different set of pedagogical approaches and adult attitudes, would not struggle in the same way, or even at all. 

I have witnessed this phenomenon many times, and it disturbs me more than I can say. Not only will the College Board’s new policy do nothing to deter it, but it will most likely encourage it further. 

Conversely, the children of less-educated parents, or those who lack knowledge of how the system functions as well as how to work it effectively (and the time work it), are less likely to receive accommodations in the first place. As a result, they are no more likely to receive accommodations under the new system than they are under the old.