Letter to the Editor from Senior Ben Solomon
In response to Charlie Hirsch’s thought-provoking article about extra time, I would like to add my two cents. Hirsch’s main point was that extra time “is a corrupt result of society trying to make everything fair.” I could not agree more. Furthermore, I would like to point out two fundamental flaws in the implementation and execution of extra time: corrupt diagnostic practices and wealth-based disparities in access to testing.
Hirsch discovered through a Knightly News survey of upperclassmen and sophomores that 40% of the 107 students who responded have extra time. However, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 13% of American public school students have extra time.
Statistically speaking, only 14 of the 107 responding students at Pace should have extra time. However, 42 of the 107 responding students have extra time. Thus, Pace has an excess of extra time students approximately three times the national average.
These statistics should deeply concern members of the greater education community about the ethics, or rather lack thereof, of extra time testing. Now let me be clear, I full heartedly support accommodations for students with actual learning disabilities. However, the line between students with actual learning disabilities and students with “diagnosed” learning disabilities is nothing more than a few extra zeroes on a check to a psychologist.
For this reason, I believe Hirsch’s solution of last period tests with the option to work until 4 p.m. for all is the best course of action. Not only does this method ensure an equal playing field for all students, but it also eliminates any advantage that wealth may play in the pursuit of an accelerated education.
On to the wealth component. I believe that the most concerning issues about extra time stem from disparities in wealth. I will use a hypothetical situation to elucidate the extent of this issue.
There are two students: a student struggling from learning disabilities who comes from a financially stressed family and an ambitious student with no learning disabilities who comes from a financially stable family. Only one of these students has extra time… the financially sound student without learning disabilities.
Unfortunately, this preposterous situation is not so preposterous at elite private schools like Pace Academy. The financially stressed student cannot afford tutors, additional workbooks, and certainly not a $3,000 trip to a psychologist. While it may be true that there are public resources available for free learning disability testing, in most cases the wait time is years resulting in detrimental effects to their education.
On the other hand, the financially sound student can afford every tutor and additional academic resource available to them in addition to the false diagnosis of a learning impairment they do not have. You do not need a Ph.D. in rocket science to see the rampant inequality of this situation.
Now once again, let me be perfectly clear, I have absolutely no issue with accommodations for individuals that actually have learning disabilities, which are usually diagnosed in elementary school. However, the widespread corruption in the learning disability testing industry seems to coincide with the additional rigors of advanced placement and college testing beginning in high school.
In conclusion, extra time is a binary solution to a spectrum-like problem that incentivizes cheating an already broken system. Not only does extra time further the gap in access to a fair education system between the rich and poor, but extra time is also a mechanism abused by academically and financially gifted students to gain unfair advantages in the college process.