06 December 2016

The College Board’s new accommodations policy – a sharp change of direction

After my recent post about the College Board’s announcement that students already receiving accommodations in school would automatically be granted equivalent accommodations on all College Board exams beginning on January 1st, 2017, I started wondering whether/how the test-taking population receiving extra time, etc. had changed in recent years. 

As I was browsing the web searching for information, I came across an interesting 2006 article by Jed Applerouth of Applerouth tutoring. 

Written just after the previous round of changes to the SAT (2005), the article details the effects of the College Board’s (forced) decision to stop flagging the scores of students who had received accommodations. Unsurprisingly, requests skyrocketed (the percentage of students taking the SAT with accommodation grew about sixfold between 1988 and 2004), and the CB responded by granting accommodations more sparingly. 

In that context, two points from the article seemed particularly striking. 

First: 

A 2000 California audit found that “white students were over-represented by 45%, students coming from families whose incomes exceed $100,000 were over-represented by 139%, and students from private schools were over-represented by 100%. The report also concluded that 18.2% of the requests granted were of “questionable” merit and gave students an “unwarranted” and “unfair” advantage. The report cited weaknesses in the College Board’s approval process as the cause of some of the unfair distribution.

That was very much in line with my observation of which types of students were most likely to request/receive accommodations; it was good to see something to back that up. 

But there’s more. Basically, the last time it was faced with accusations of unfairly privileging more advantaged students, the College Board responded by altering its approval process to make it harder for such students to receive accommodations.

This time, in contrast, the College Board is responding to these accusations in part by making it easier for such students to receive accommodations. Naturally, it is doing so under the guise of helping disadvantaged students. 

And second: 

When the College Board plotted the 2005 results of students taking the test with accommodations, the results yielded not a bell-curve but rather a bi-modal distribution (meaning the distribution was top and bottom heavy with a disproportionate number of low scoring and high scoring students rather than a tendency toward the mean). This greatly alarmed the College Board that the population of students receiving accommodation did not mirror the rest of the population.

I suspect that the College Board’s new policy will likely have little to no effect on this distribution.  

On one hand, the number of disadvantaged students (who are more likely to have IEP’s or be in special education) receiving accommodations will presumably rise; however, that number is likely to be artificially inflated because some states are now using the SAT as a graduation requirement.

Essentially, students who in the past past would not have taken the SAT at all (and thus never have even applied for accommodations) will now be taking the test with accommodations, regardless of whether they even intend to apply to college.

At the same time, the increase in the number of disadvantaged students receiving accommodations will most likely be counterbalanced by an increase in the number of affluent students receiving accommodations — students who will almost certainly apply to college.

Furthermore, as affluent parents become aware of the ease of obtaining accommodations from the College Board, they will likely push even harder for their children to obtain accommodations in school – whether they are are merited or not. And since private schools have a financial stake in keeping families happy, it seems reasonable to assume that the overrepresentation of private-school students will increase even further. 

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