The Operation Varsity Blues scandal, in which wealthy parents paid large amounts of money to give their children advantages to get into prestigious colleges and universities, will be discussed for the next several years as the college process cycle renews.
However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many ways parents are buying advantages for their children.
One of these less discussed advantages is parents using unwarranted accommodations for standardized tests, commonly called “having a 504.”
A 504 is an education accommodation plan created with the parents and the school to allow a student with a learning or physical difference to learn and test to the best of their abilities in an environment that works for them.
Before the scandal broke, I was aware that students were using 504s to gain extra time on the ACT and SAT.
I was fortunate enough to have an SAT/ACT tutor, and he recommended me to have a 504 because most students at the private school he works at have one.
I qualify for a 504 because I have a physical difference which could allow me to have access to extra time on standardized tests, even though I don’t necessarily need it. I choose not to have one because my specific physical difference does not hinder my ability to learn.
Because of this, the scandal infuriated me because people are misusing 504s which is unfair to those who actually need them.
The ringleader of the scandal, Rick Singer, told one family that the scam worked by getting their child diagnosed with a fake learning difference to test in an isolated room. Then, in that isolated room, a bribed proctor was also part of the scam. The bribed proctor would then change the student’s answers to get the desired test score.
Let me emphasize that parents are misusing a system built to foster equality. They are only creating more inequality within the college process.
In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act was passed, including Section 504, to hinder discrimination against people with physical or mental differences.
To get a 504, students can have a free evaluation by the school. But, parents can also pay for an outside evaluation, which is what most parents involved in this college admissions scandal did, because it is likely their student didn’t actually need one.
There is a range of people who qualify for a 504 because the policy is so vague, allowing for almost every condition, or lack of condition, to be covered. The proper documentation of a diagnosis, changes in academics and a teacher recommendation may be asked for, but it depends on the school.
With 504s, there doesn’t have to be a written document about the accommodations. The parents must notify the school of any significant changes in accommodations but the notice doesn’t need to be in writing.
When I was looking through the policy of the 504 to understand it better, the loopholes were staring me in the face.
I can clearly see how the parents paid for an outside evaluator to have their child examined and slipped the evaluator a few more hundred dollar bills to get the evaluation done “correctly.”
There is also no standardized 504 plan so essentially one could make whatever plan is suitable for their child’s needs, or lack thereof.
The other loophole is that 504s do not need to be reported to colleges because colleges are legally not allowed to ask if a student has a learning impairment. This of course protects those who need 504s but also protects those who are misusing them.
Then, to get extra time on the ACT and SAT, there is no guarantee you will have it even with a 504 or other education plan.
There are a series of procedures and documentation needed for each test. The most important is a “Teacher Survey” form which provides evidence that the student is using their accommodations in the classroom. But take into consideration that this needs to be completed six weeks in advance.
I am not accusing all students of using 504s only to gain an advantage. Most students are using it for their intended purpose.
However, there has been an increase in the rate of student using accommodations for the SAT with an increase of 2.5 percent increase from 2012, according to the College Board.
A Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data shows that more students have gotten a 504 to receive extra help with issues ranging from ADHD to anxiety.
There is a lot of work necessary to have educational accommodations for the classroom and standardized tests to meet students needs. I feel sympathy for the people who do have to deal with this for their own good because the system process seems taxing.
But, if someone is trying to cheat their way through it, that’s a lot of time and effort you could be spending on actually studying for the test so you can do well for yourself. Take the time to reflect on what help you need and what help you can give others in order to help our school community grow stronger.