False Claims of LD Hurt Those with Legit Diagnoses

If you follow the news at all, you’re aware of the growing scandal surrounding college admissions: a number of wealthy parents are allegedly complicit in using bribery to facilitate acceptance of their sons and daughters to elite colleges. One of the methods involved false claims of learning disabilities in order to gain accommodations on college entrance exams that enabled manipulation of SAT scores by unscrupulous graders.

We stand with the LD community in condemning the misuse and abuse of the learning disabilities diagnoses to game the system. The upshot, we fear, will be a return to stigmatization for the 20% of students legitimately diagnosed with learning challenges and ADHD, who rightly deserve standardized test accommodations to level the playing field.

In an open editorial, David Flink, who is the co-founder of Eye to Eye, an organization dedicated to de-stigmatizing LD and helping these students, eloquently expressed the sentiments we share. He welcomes you, as do we at Smart Kids, to pass this along to others who might not fully understand the disservice these families have done to students with LD and ADHD.

As I read about the college admissions bribery ring, I was outraged not only because I saw adults behaving badly to squeeze their children into elite schools through a so-called “side door.” I was angry because many of these desperate parents successfully bought learning disability diagnoses that granted prospective students extra time on standardized tests.

As a former Brown University Admission Officer, a person with dyslexia and ADHD, and the Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye, a nonprofit mentoring program that serves the 1 in 5 who learn differently, I know very well how hard students fight to be identified by their schools as “learning disabled” and to receive appropriate accommodations. A typical student with a learning disability like dyslexia may spend years being evaluated and then, even with a diagnosis, must ask for accommodations at the risk of being embarrassed, judged, or misunderstood.

I join the chorus condemning the abuse of the college admissions process and want to shine a light on how this scandal mischaracterizes the journey of students with very real learning disabilities. The parents and test-taking coaches who were able to manipulate the system to give extra time on tests to students who don’t have learning disabilities acted unethically—and they’ve done a considerable disservice to the 1 in 5 students with learning disabilities across this country. They’ve appropriated an accommodation—extra time on standardized tests—that levels the playing field; the Disability Rights movement worked for decades to secure this accommodation. They’ve also appropriated my identity and the identity of thousands of students who have struggled to succeed with a learning disability. This signals to me that these parents and coaches don’t understand the nature of learning disabilities at all. According to a 2003 study released by the College Board, students who don’t have learning disabilities don’t significantly benefit from extra time on standardized tests. For students who do have learning disabilities, the extra time is game-changing; it’s often the difference between getting into college and not.

It takes tremendous courage to carry the label “learning disabled.” We should all be extremely uncomfortable when parents are able to buy a diagnosis—and with it, an accommodation—to sway admissions officers. These desperate, wealthy parents aren’t helping their children’s scores. Instead, by taking advantage of the system, they’re hurting the students who genuinely struggle with learning disabilities and need accommodations to get into college, period.