An Unfair Advantage
By Charlotte Hoppen
Everyone is aware that the ACT and SAT bring studying, stress, and little sleep for regular students. But according to a Highlander survey, for the 20% of Seaholm students with learning disabilities, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the SAT and ACT can be even more stressful.
Students with ADHD and other learning disabilities can apply to receive accommodations on both the ACT and SAT. According to the College Board, which runs the SAT, “Examples of accommodations include tests in Braille or large print, extra breaks between sections and extended testing time.” These accommodations are also applied to the ACT.
However, students across the country are now learning how to hijack the system and receive the accommodations without actually having ADHD.
Students must go through a detailed documentation process in order to receive these benefits. Senior Sydney Alexander has ADHD and anxiety due to a severe concussion. She receives a time and a half to take the ACT and takes her test with other students who get the time accommodations.
According to Alexander, the documentation process includes sending in doctor notes and files, letters from counselors and parents, and other information from the school.
“In the process for ACT, SAT, we do have some paperwork that we have to fill out and it’s usually helpful if the student does have a diagnosis and they receive accommodations at the school.” Seaholm counselor Brian Flatter said, “That usually helps bolster their argument as to whether they need the accommodations on the test.”
Often, students with ADHD have difficulty focusing and controlling their behavior, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The accommodations can help the students with focusing while taking the tests.
This misuse of the system is becoming a trend amongst teens to try and get ahead of their fellow classmates. They are granted the benefits and treated as if they also have the learning disability.
This is a national trend, but it also occurs at Seaholm. According to a Highlander survey, 23% of students would try to fake having ADHD in order to get any benefits on the SAT or ACT.
Seaholm’s school psychologist, Wendy Halverson, believes that the process to get the accommodations has become harder over the years. She thinks that making the process harder affects the students who fake the diagnosis.
“The students that apply for accommodations are those students that already have a formal plan in place at school.” Halverson said, “Given the amount of documentation that ACT requires, it would be very difficult and highly unlikely to get approval from ACT if a student was faking ADHD.”
ADHD can range from having little difficulty focusing to major difficulties where the student’s life events are impacted. For the ACT and SAT organizations, it’s almost impossible to tell whether a student actually has ADHD or if they fake it.
Flatter said, “You have to think of ADHD as almost like a spectrum. You might have somebody who has a minor case of it and it might impact them a little bit or then you have somebody else who has a real heavy case of it where it’s really difficult for them to focus and organize.” Flatter said, “So it’s kind of hard to judge but I can see where there would be kind of a question of who really has it.”
Along with these accommodations on the tests, sometimes students can also receive medication for ADHD, including Adderall and Dexedrine. These medications can be used to improve focusing skills and keep students studying for long periods of time, which also helps boost the test scores.
The students who actually have ADHD and need the assistance are put at yet another disadvantage. Now not only is it harder for them to get their deserved accommodations, but their scores don’t measure up to those of a normal student with the extra time or benefits.
Alexander is irritated that people actually try to cheat the system of something only to get ahead of others.
“It’s kind of frustrating because then it does make the process so hard for people that actually need the extra time. In order to take a test, I can’t just sign up for it online. I have to go back a month in advance and ask for all of my accommodations.” Alexander said, “It just makes it harder because there are people out there who just scam.”
Even students who don’t have any learning disabilities and don’t receive accommodations are at a disadvantage, because they have to compete against their peers who did fake the diagnosis when applying to colleges.
The pressure put on students to get into an elite college is perhaps what is the cause of the immoral actions. Flatter believes that students resort to the cheating and working the system as a result of the pressure and need to succeed.
One anonymous student believes that students will do anything to get ahead of others, including compromising other student’s success.
“I personally think it is corrupting to the system, but I do understand why some kids would attempt to fake a disability to get more time. There is so much pressure to do well on ACT/SAT that it can drive both parents and students to extremes, even if that means possibly compromising the score of someone who actually has a disability,” the student said.
According to Flatter, many students think that the ACT or SAT will ultimately determine which college they will be accepted to. However, students do need to realize that colleges don’t only look at their standardized test scores, but rather the whole person they are.
Flatter believes that guidance by adults in the student’s life could help this problem decrease, but it may never go away.
“The hope is that people like myself in the position of being a counselor are reaching out and guiding our students from early on so that their not in a position where they feel that pressure and that anxiety, which makes them feel like they don’t have another choice.” Flatter said, “I don’t know that you could ever really eliminate it.