Do learning disabilities affect how high school students perform on the ACT college entrance exam?
That was the question Melissa Rey set out to answer in a research study she conducted while still in high school. Using rigorous research methods, Rey collected five years’ worth of data from two high schools with similar course offerings and grading systems. She compared the ACT scores of students with disabilities to those without disabilities.
To better understand her findings, Rey segmented her participants with disabilities into three groups:
- Specific Learning Disabilities (LD)
- Language Impairments (LI)
- Other Health Impairment (OHI, includes ADHD)
Rey’s study found the following:
- Students categorized as OHI scored higher than students without disabilities (an unusual finding that Rey suggests may be unique to her study).
- Language-impaired students scored 2.02 points lower on the ACT.
- Students with higher grades scored 4.41 points higher for every 1.0-point increase in grade point average.
- Students who crossed all three categories (OHI, LD, LI) scored 1.41 points lower than students without disabilities.
- Boys scored slightly higher than girls, which is consistent with previous research.
Based on Rey’s study, it appears that multiple disabilities have a unique effect on ACT scores. Whether or not her research will be replicated remains to be seen, but for now Rey thinks her results may be helpful in evaluating students with LD for college admission. Says Rey, “When they look at the ACT score of a student with multiple disabilities, they will expect the students with OHI+LD+LI will have lower scores. Knowing this difference will prevent a college from judging the ACT score of a student with OHI+LD+LI unfairly.”
Rey’s study was born out of her life experience. As a student with learning disabilities, she has developed a strong interest in the nature and impact of LD.
As for this 18-year-old student, her learning disabilities have not prevented her from leaving her mark already. In 2008 she was named America’s Top Young Scientist in the 2008 Discovery 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a national competition to select the top young science communicator. Two years later she was selected as the Smart Kids Youth Achievement Award Winner.
You can bet we’ll hear more from this rising star.