July 19, 2002

Staff Editorial

The College Board recently agreed to settle a suit brought by Disability Rights Advocates, which mandates the cessation of the practice of flagging test scores obtained under special conditions—most commonly extra time.

Most education officials and commentators have observed that the end of flagging is a commendable change, in the sense that it reinforces the idea of "education equity." However, many observers have also cautioned that the end of flagging it is also a dangerous move—removing flags can and most like will foster increased abuse of the system by eliminating the sole potential drawback to receiving special conditions. In our opinion, removing flags destandardizes a standardized test, and flags should be reinstated. If a college or university uses SAT scores as part of the admissions process, the fact that a student received extra time must be considered in their evaluation of the score in question. This holds true even if admissions decisions are made by mathematical formulae.

The onus of deciding which disability is more valid than the next is an unenviable task—a discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen, in all likelihood. It's unfair to saddle the College Board with such a responsibility. It is virtually impossible for them to determine if everyone who was granted special conditions truly necessitated them.

So the unfortunate millstone of passing value statements on applicant's disabilities inevitably falls to the colleges and universities themselves. But this is not as unfortunate as it may seem: after all, the standardized test is only one part of an application. If a student has a serious disability that merits consideration in assessing their academic performance, one would only expect that to be expressed in some fashion in the application process.

Flagging is discriminatory—but given the reality of abusing special testing conditions, it is a discrimination, in the neutral sense of the word, that must be made.