Campaigners hail fairer exam deal for the disabled

UNITED STATES

In a major shake-up for school-leavers, markers of the Scholastic Aptitude Tests and ACT assessments, which are accepted for university entrance, will no longer know whether a candidate has received extra time because he or she is disabled.

The decision to stop flagging disabled candidates was taken after legal action and a report by academic experts which suggested admissions staff were discriminating against them. But the ruling has sparked fears of a surge in fraudulent claims.

From September 2003, the College Board exam authority will stop marking SATs with a note saying, "Scores Obtained Under Special Circumstances". While their peers take the three-hour SAT in an exam hall, disabled pupils sit in a separate room, use a computer and generally are given an extra 90 minutes.

Robert Schaeffer, of FairTest, a group opposing standardised testing, said the move was a vital step towards fair treatment. "The flag was a scarlet asterisk, which led some college admissions staff to treat applications from disabled students differently," he said.

But a study in California two years ago suggests wealthy pupils may play the system to gain an unfair advantage. It found students at private schools were four times more likely to get extra time than poorer peers.

However, Sid Wolinsky, of Disability Rights Advocates, which sued the College Board over the issue, puts the disparity down to under-use by the poor rather than abuse by the rich. "Working-class parents do not have the energy and sophistication to ask for accommodations," he said.

Disabled students must submit applications backed by doctors and school staff.

Of the 3.1 million students who took last year's SAT or ACT, some 56,000 got accommodations - in most cases, extra time.

Most of the disabled group have attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder or learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

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