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In what is being called the “largest college cheating scam” ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, 50 people allegedly paid large sums of money to get their children accepted into universities across the country. Among the outlined accusations, some parents allegedly exploited disability accommodations so students could get better standardized test scores for college admission.
U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling announced the accusations at a news conference, Good Morning America reported. Per Lelling, all of the cheating can allegedly be traced back to William Singer, who owns Key Worldwide Foundation and Edge College & Career Network. Between 2011 and 2018 he is accused of collecting $25 million in bribes to get students into college with the help of a network of others.
Among those indicted, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, various alleged cheating activities were uncovered. These included bribing coaches to accept non-athletic students on sports teams to secure college admission and paying for adults to take standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT in place of students.
In addition, some parents are accused of taking advantage of the ability to request accommodations for students with disabilities, including Huffman and her husband William Macy, who is not named in the suit. Parents were allegedly told they should get medical documentation to claim a learning disability and request extra time for their child to take the exam. According to the filed charges, they were then told their children should take the test at centers in Houston and West Hollywood, California, where exam proctors allegedly corrected the students’ answers.
Huffman and Macy also seem to have abused the disability accommodations provisions of the SAT to facilitate their cheating—getting their daughter extra time on the test, and using that as a pretext to put in place the crooked proctor who fixed the test scores.
— Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) March 12, 2019
This revelation outraged disability advocates online.
Man as a parent to a kid about to graduate college with ADHD and all the fucking heartbreak and doing it over and trying even harder and sucking it up it took to get here…I really can’t find the words.
— Basically, Jennifer (@Jenadelphia) March 12, 2019
What makes me angry is the fact that many parents FABRICATED A DISABILITY so that their shitty kids would get extra time on the ACT/SAT. It hurts kids like me who actually are disabled and NEED that time to even do as well as a non disabled kid. I got 150% time on
— halee reeves (@wwyith) March 12, 2019
Meanwhile, my children and I will lose healthcare and disability benefits if I save too much money for college unless it’s in a super special account so as to make sure there’s no chance of fraud. #CollegeAdmissions #CollegeScam #TalkPoverty
— Rene Joy (@renejoywrites) March 12, 2019
As someone who actually has a learnig disability (ADHD) I am FUMING!!! I had to ask for extra time on multiple tests & projects in high school (including the SATs) because I had such a hard time focusing. This is repulsive and I hope they all go down for it. https://t.co/HVqhQhmi3M
— Stark Warrior (@RichonnesSon) March 12, 2019
What’s even worse are the parents who made up disabilities to get accommodations. My son has autism & only got 50% extra time on SAT. Huffmans daughter got 100%!!! My son was nonverbal & could barely hold a pencil half his life. He worked his ass off just to be able to compete.
— Veronica (@JustMeSillyV) March 12, 2019
The Mighty’s contributing disability editor, Karin Willison, explained how complex getting testing accommodations can be and why these standardized tests might not be the most effective measure for college readiness in the first place. She said:
When I took the SAT many years ago, getting accommodations was a complex process. I have cerebral palsy and needed my test in a different format as well as extra time to complete it. My score was flagged to colleges as a “non-standard administration,” which violated my right not to disclose my disability and seemed to suggest that my score was less legitimate than others. The SAT stopped flagging scores a number of years ago, but other testing companies are currently facing lawsuits for continuing the practice. Although I did well on my standardized tests, I don’t believe anything on the test demonstrated my academic skills or college readiness, and certainly not in a way that wasn’t already shown in my grades, personal essay and extracurricular activities. I was tested on how well I could take the test and nothing more.
While abuse of disability accommodations by students without disabilities isn’t new, this alleged cheating scandal highlights how difficult it is for students with actual disabilities to get the accommodations they need. A 2016 inquiry, for example, looked into high numbers of disabled students receiving scores that were not “college-reportable” because of “unapproved” accommodations, creating what advocates call a “separate and unequal” system.
Because of how difficult it is for students with disabilities to get the accommodations they need, Willison highlighted that moving forward, it’s important not to punish students with disabilities who need accommodations for standardized testing and a fair shot at college.
“When people fraudulently obtain disability accommodations, it makes it harder for those with legitimate needs like me to get the accommodations we need,” Willison said, adding:
Those who are responsible need to be prosecuted, but we must be careful not to turn abusive behavior by the rich and powerful into an excuse to persecute everyday kids with disabilities and their families who need accommodations for standardized testing.