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Students from Wealthy Public Schools have College Admissions Advantage

The recent college admissions scandal demonstrates the challenges facing students coming from marginalized populations to gain admission into elite colleges. A less reported aspect of the scandal was the focus on students from wealthy public school districts requesting and receiving special accommodations such as extra time and a separate room for completing college admissions exams.

The number of public high-school students receiving special considerations for college admissions tests, such as extra time, and being able to take the exam in a private room has surged in recent years. A recent article in the Wallstreet Journal stated that public school students in wealthier areas, where no more than 10% of students are eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches, an average of 4.2% of students has 504 designations giving them special test-taking allowances such as extra time. Only 1.6% of students have these designations at public schools in more impoverished areas, defined as those where 75% or more of students are eligible for free and reduced-cost lunches.

The race against the time clock is one of the toughest aspects of college entrance exams. In the normal process, students take the SAT or ACT in a classroom with other students, over three hours. The pressure to score well is intense. Students admitted to New York University for the class entering this fall had lofty median SAT scores of 1480 out of a possible 1600, and Harvard claims that more than 3,400 of those who applied had perfect scores in the math segment of the test.

Belkin, Levitz & Korn (2019) of the Wallstreet Journal claim that a significant number of children are diagnosed with language-based learning disabilities, and 10% have ADHD. The reported prevalence of 4.2% of students in affluent districts with 504 accommodations is well below these rates and, if anything, indicates underdiagnosis. The Wallstreet Journal authors report that the number of special circumstance requests processed by the College Board increased by nearly 200% over the past seven years, whereas the percentage of test-takers increased by roughly 25%. The real tragedy is the appallingly low rate of 1.6% of students in poorer areas who have 504 accommodations.

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