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What the College Admissions Scandal Reveals About Disability, Speed, and Standardized Tests

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Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation charged 50 people with bribing university officials and test proctors to game the college admissions systems at elite colleges on behalf of their children. It’s a shameful affair, and one of the most shameful aspects of the story is that parents allegedly hired a professional operator, William Singer, to help them falsely claim that their child had a disability and was therefore entitled to double time over two days to take the SAT.

On the one hand, this part of the story could further the mistaken but long-held stereotype that people with disabilities often game the system to get unfair advantages. But that’s the wrong conclusion to draw from this fraud.

Instead, the college admissions scandal should draw attention to a different problem: That the companies that develop and administer standardized tests have no empirical basis for placing such an emphasis on speed. Yet these companies do put a terrible premium on speed, even though the notion that faster is better has been debunked: In fact, a student’s scores on such exams correlate in a perfect linear relationship with socio-economic status rather than with a student’s ability to solve difficult problems.

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