Opinion: College Admission Scandal Compromises Students With Disabilities

I have ADD and as a mother of a child who was diagnosed at the age of 10 with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it’s difficult to fathom that parents would lie about their children having a disability in order to get them into college.

And it’s not that my daughter, who is now 17 and a senior in high school, isn’t smart. She is an incredibly bright young lady.

However, ADD is a neurobiologically-based developmental disability, which has caused challenges in reference to how her brain processes information. It’s the result of a chemical imbalance or deficiency in certain neurotransmitters, which help the brain regulate behavior and learning. Also, the symptoms vary from person to person.

It is considered a disability and is a protected condition under federal law.

It was a struggle getting her to a place where she didn’t suffer from test anxiety, forgetting everything she had just gone over, as well as keeping her focused because she was easily distracted. None of these things could have been accomplished without the proper diagnosis of a psychologist and extensive testing. We also had to work with school administrators to get a 504 in place to accommodate her disorder.

There are children, who honestly need the disability protection the federal government offers; meanwhile others try to get the protection for students who don’t need it.

William Rick Singer masterminded the college admissions scandal, which involved prominent business people and Hollywood celebrities, and advised parents on how to gain entrance into elite universities by lying. He directed them on how to acquire diagnoses from psychologists so they could have certain allowances when taking the entrance exams.

In court documents, Singer said, in a recorded phone conversation: “I also need to tell [your daughter] when she gets tested, to be as, to be stupid, not to be as smart as she is. The goal is to be slow, to be not as bright, all that, so we show discrepancies.”

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In doing this, Singer actually violated the civil rights of disabled people by fraudulently getting testing accommodations for students who didn’t need them. Advocates of students with disabilities were outraged at the audacity of such an act.

Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities has stated: “There have been major federal laws passed to ensure that individuals who have disabilities receive these types of accommodations. The reason they need an accommodation is to mitigate the disability. When they receive the accommodation it’s meant to make the testing environment similar to that for a person without a disability.”

In essence, the accommodation leveled the playing field for those who need extra assistance — like my daughter. Anything can be a trigger that distracts her from focusing on her work as well as any noise may not allow her to think clearly when testing or doing classwork.

“Those types of things are amplified for someone with a brain-based disability,” Jones says. “The accommodations are well known, they are a civil right and they are there for a reason.”

In the past, these accommodations were hard to obtain because children with a disability like ADD/ADHD were simply thought to be rambunctious or just not paying attention.

The recent college admissions scandal not only pushed a false narrative that an accommodation provides an advantage to those who are approved for it, but students who really need the accommodation will have a tougher time securing the protection that the federal law provides.

There is definitely a need for the law. One in five school-aged children have learning and attention issues such as dyslexia and ADHD, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

One in 16 kindergarten through grade 12 students have what’s known as Individualized Education Programs, which are specific learning plans developed with teachers. And one in 50 public school students receive accommodations for disabilities when they test.

Ironically, the majority of students who are approved for testing accommodations at their school are automatically approved for the same accommodations when taking the SAT or ACT.

So to the parents who cheated their children’s way into college, it’s a big deal for us parents whose children need those accommodations. They deserve to be punished to the fullest extent that the law allows.


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