Testing the Disabled

University Testing

As more students with disabilities apply to college and graduate school, admissions officers are dealing with an increasing number of files which include test scores marked "non-standard administration." In most cases, these "flags" indicate that the test-taker received some accommodation for a disability such as additional time, large-type or a reader.


However, "The current situation involving the use of admissions tests for students with disabilities is untenable," according to two experts writing on "The Use of 'Flagged' Test Scores in College and University Admissions: Issues and Implications Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act." The authors, Diana C. Pullin, Professor and former Dean of the School of Education at Boston College, and Kevin J. Heaney, former Director of Advising at Cornell's College of Engineering, argue that "the practice of flagging test scores potentially burdens students with disabilities with yet another stigma," in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. Both Pullin and Heaney are also attorneys.


According to the authors, the dilemma for admissions officers is that while "reasonable accommodations seek to level the playing field between disabled and nondisabled applicants, a flagged score seems to actually create an additional burden or obstacle confronting students with disabilities." This problem is confounded by the inability of the testing industry "to provide admissions tests that are equally valid for all examinees . . . in all situations involving nonstandard administrations to accommodate for the existence of disabilities."


Pullin and Heaney conclude that all institutions of higher education, as well as testing companies, must review their practices in light of legal requirements. In particular, they warn that "no inferences about an applicant's capabilities should be made on the basis of any single piece of information about an applicant, such as a flagged test score."


Along with the recent settlement of the U.S. Justice Depart-ment's complaint against the National Collegiate Athletic Association for misusing test scores from students with learning disabilities (see "NCAA Settles With Justice Department", p. 3), Pullin and Heaney put all colleges on notice that they may face legal action if they use test score cutoffs to make admissions or scholarship decisions for such students.


The article appears in the Spring 1997 issue of The Journal of College and University Law.


A good overview of accommodations currently available on the two major undergraduate admissions tests, "Summary of the 1997-98 ACT and SAT Modifications," can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/transition/hishinuma_actsat.html. Written by University of Hawaii Professor Earl Hishinuma and educational consultant John Fremstad, the article lays out a variety of options for students with learning disabilities.