“Operation Varsity Blues” exposed a national cheat-your-way-to-college scam which continues to reverberate in the areas of privilege, race, ability, and equity in test preparation (Jaschick, 2019). As a professional who worked extensively in the field of college access for diverse learners, I am following these conversations with interest.
Students with disabilities who need accommodations for standardized tests (like ACT, SAT, GRE, etc.) could be sidelined by the scandal. Cokley (2019), the director of the Disability Justice Initiative at American Progress, described the potential future difficulties for obtaining accommodations and modifications, by highlighting how the rights of people with disabilities have been “co-opted” by parents who paid for a label in exploitation of IDEA. While many are concerned about where we go from here with regard to college access, privilege, ability, and equity, I would like to offer a different thought, one focused on inclusive principles of education.
Once a student has obtained accommodations for standardized testing, the assessment journey is actually just beginning. The test prep industry, which is grounded on a foundation of ability, is slow to incorporate inclusive principles which respond to the needs of all learners. Often, test prep material is one-size-fits-most and test prep tutors are not trained to differentiate for various learning differences. But when a student receives an accommodation, there is a need to individualize test prep instruction for effectiveness. As an educator who is deeply concerned with and in favor of inclusion, it is important to remember that inclusive principles need to run through every aspect of education: students with disabilities can utilize numerous strategies for success in testing, but these strategies would be more accessible if the idea of inclusive test preparation were to take hold in our national testing conversation.
With attention now focused on who receives accommodations and why, it seems like the perfect time to press the inclusion issue for test prep of all students, including students with disabilities. Instead of this being a time of intense worry for students with accommodations, how about if we push for full-inclusion in national conversation, moving past the “varsity blues” theme of misused privilege to accentuate the empowering idea of “nothing about us without us” (Charlton, 1998). This is what the disability community does best—advocate for change that includes the perspectives of all in society.
Here are some resources and tips for students with testing accommodations:
- If you are using a test prep center, ask if there are any tutors who have experience working with many types of learners; ask if the center uses an individualized approach; finally, ask if any tutors have success with students sitting for the exam, using accommodations. Often a center will say that it can individualize, but there are no tutors who have worked with a student’s accommodations to help develop a plan specific to the student and the accommodation. If using a test prep center, it could be most useful to find one that has success with student accommodations through the entire cycle of test prep and assessment.
- If you do not use a test prep center, look for the same qualities in an individual tutor. It is important to be as specific as possible because the range of strategies is extensive.
- If you do not use a test prep professional, there are several test prep books that could be useful:
- SAT Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities (Barron’s) https://www.amazon.com/Barrons-Strategies-Students-Learning-Disabilities/dp/0764137972
- LD SAT Study Guide: Test Prep and Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities (Osborne, 2009) https://www.amazon.com/SAT-Study-Guide-Strategies-Disabilities/dp/159257887X
- Before applying for accommodations, select the test (SAT or ACT) which is the best fit for the student. Each test requires different timing strategies, various math strategies, etc. Usually, one test is a better fit for the student.
- There are colleges that are test-optional and test-flexible (https://blog.prepscholar.com/the-complete-guide-to-sat-optional-colleges). This information changes each year, though, so it is best to check with the university.
Until the time that standardized tests are not a strong component of college access, pre-planning for all aspects of the college application will offer the strongest path for college entrance. Students with disabilities belong in all university settings; don’t let anyone (or any test) discourage college acquisition. If you are a student with accommodations for ACT/SAT and you have questions or need ideas, feel free to contact me (Anne) firstname.lastname@example.org. Instead of being sidelined by “Operation Varsity Blues,” let’s move the inclusion dialog front and center.
Anne Steketee, M. Ed., is a PhD candidate at Chapman University in the Cultural and Curricular Studies emphasis. Currently, she is teaching in the Integrated Educational Studies degree program in the Attallah College of Educational Studies (CES) and is the research assistant for Dr. Trisha Sugita. Anne teaches undergraduate pre-service educators, utilizing a strong developmental lifespan perspective with particular emphasis on anti-oppressive teaching. Current publications include race-based mental health disparities, disproportionality in special education, microaggressions in educational spaces, full inclusion models for teaching, and post-digital considerations in education.
Charlton, J. I. (1998). Nothing about us without us: Disability oppression and empowerment.Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Cokley, R. (2019, March 14). The real victims of the college admissions scams are people with disabilities. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/03/14/real-victims-college-admissions-scams-are-people-with-disabilities/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.235c9fadffb2
Jaschik, S. (2019, March 12). Massive admissions scandal. Inside Higher Ed.Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2019/03/13/dozens-indicted-alleged-massive-case-admissions-fraud