The Unflagging of Extended Time on the SAT and ACT

Extended Time on SAT, Extended Time on ACT, ACT and SAT Extended Time

Many students receive extended time on the SAT and ACT due to disabilities (photo credit: Derrick Smith).

Updated on August 13, 2018: If students receive extra time on the SAT or ACT because of a disability like ADHD, do the colleges to which these students apply know they received this accommodation? It’s a question a number of folks have asked us over the last couple of days after we posted about how some parents — and New York City parents in particular — often shop for a diagnosis from a psychologist so their child can receive extra time. The answer should be no. If a student receives extended time on the SAT or ACT, colleges should not be informed of this accommodation. But what should be the case and what is the case can be two different things entirely. About a year ago, ACT, Inc. started sending information on students’ disabilities to colleges and this has sparked a lawsuit against the company (hence our update to this post).

Disability Rights Grouped Championed the Unflagging of Extended Time

It wasn’t always the case that College Board and ACT, Inc. weren’t legally allowed to send information on students receiving extra time to colleges. It became the case as part of the settlement agreement of a 1999 lawsuit, which was championed by disability rights groups. After all, disclosing to colleges that a student has a learning disability and thus receives extended time on the SAT or ACT would seemingly violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. At least we’d think it would violate this act. And apparently we weren’t alone. But of course with the unflagging of extended time on the SAT and ACT that took effect in 2002 (and was made retroactive to 1999), a number of folks whose children did not in fact have disabilities requiring extended time tried to capitalize on the decision.

Unintended Consequences of the Unflagging of Extended Time

As Jane Grossept wrote in a 2002 piece for “The New York Times” entitled “Paying for a Disability Diagnosis To Gain Time on College Boards,” “Many educators, and the officials of the College Board, say that the small risk of abuse pales beside the unfairness of stigmatizing, or perhaps discriminating against, disabled test-takers. But to lessen that risk, the College Board, which owns the tests, recently beefed up its compliance department to audit and discipline high schools that seem to be granting an unreasonable number of accommodations. College Board officials do not dispute that there is an unintended class bias in the granting of accommodations, although they say it is no worse than other inequities in the education system, be it outdated textbooks or overburdened guidance counselors.”

Where do you stand on the unflagging of extended time? Do you believe College Board and ACT should do more to inhibit students who do not actually have disabilities from receiving extended time? Do you think ACT, Inc. will lose the class-action lawsuit the organization is currently facing for disclosing students’ disabilities to colleges over the past several months in apparent violation of the settlement agreement of a 1999 lawsuit? Let us know your thoughts on the matter by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!


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  • 2021 Mom says:

    Extra time should definitely be flagged for SAT, ACT and AP exams. Here is an actual data point from the expensive private school my son went to:

    23% of the students recognized as National Merit Semi-finalist and Commended Scholars for the class of 2017 had extra time (or shall we say medically enhanced scores.)

    Additionally, I submit that GPAs and transcripts should be flagged as well.

    A whopping 29% of the students awarded Cum Laude membership at this school had extra time on all their high school exams as well.

    These numbers are so far above the 5% ACT and 3% SAT extra time numbers you mentioned that it is ridiculous.

    • KenC says:

      What private school is that? For such a high percentage, it almost seems institutionalized. Is the school encouraging this, or does the school somehow attract the types of families and students that are always trying to get an edge?

      Anyhow, presumably, admissions is always looking for a baseline to benchmark scores and grades against. It would definitely change their perception of a school if an unusual percentage of students were gaining a small advantage, so at a minimum they should know what percentage of students are medicated. Aggregate data seems legally acceptable, individual data would probably run into some Hipaa regs.

      • JCW says:

        KenC, you sound surprised. Check out the WSJ article today (May 24) entitled “Colleges Bend the Rules for More Students”. As many as one in four students at some elite U.S. colleges are classified as disabled, largely because of “mental-health issues”, entitling them to a widening array of special accommodations like longer time to take exams.

        • KenC says:

          Yeah, I am surprised. It’s been almost 40yrs since I applied to college. My nephew applied this year, so I’ve been discussing colleges with my sister. Quite alot has changed!

          I suppose I’d be classified as “disabled” as well, asperger’s, but I didn’t need extra time back in the day. I used to finish each section in under 20 mins. It’d be hard for me to go back and look at the questions again, and it was reassuring that studies indicated that second-guessing oneself didn’t actually help. Having extra time seems nice, but I wonder if it isn’t a bit of a double-edged sword. Have any studies been done?

          When these students go to college, do they ask for extra time on exams?

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