A Test of Faith: College Testing Services Will Stop Flagging Scores. (Education 2002)

By Steele, Julia | The Exceptional Parent, September 2002 | Go to article overview

A Test of Faith: College Testing Services Will Stop Flagging Scores. (Education 2002)


Steele, Julia, The Exceptional Parent


In a move that will help students with disabilities, but may hurt the fairness of of test administration, the College Board and ACT will no longer identify test scores obtained under special conditions. This will affect all College Board standardized tests, including the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and the Advanced Placement Program (AP), as well as the ACT college entrance exam.

"Special conditions" usually refers to extended time limits, but can also mean special computer set-ups, readers, scribes or other accommodations. The practice of identifying test scores obtained under such conditions is known as "flagging," and consists of including asterisks or the words "nonstandard administration" on score reports to alert college admissions offices and anyone else who may see the scores that accommodations were made.

The decision to discontinue flagging came after the case of Breimhorst v. Educational Testing Service (ETS), C-99-3387. The ETS is a nonprofit organization that develops and administers standardized tests. ETS tests include the Graduate Requirement Exam (GRE), Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), among others.

The case involved Mark Breimhorst, who in 1998 took the GMAT in preparation for applying to business school. Because he has no hands, Breimhorst was given permission to take the test on a computer with a trackball, as well as a 25-percent increase to the time limit. When his scores came back with the special conditions indicator included, Breimhorst called the ETS and requested that the notation be removed. They refused.

In July 1999, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) of Oakland, CA filed a suit against the ETS on Breimhorst's behalf. They alleged that test score flagging is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, since ETS receives federal funding. Section 504 states that no "otherwise qualified individual with a disability" shall "be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." It was argued that flagging is a stigmatizing practice that constitutes discrimination. Organizational plaintiffs in the case included the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and Californians for Disability Rights. The suit sought injunctive relief to end flagging, as well as compensatory, treble and punitive damages.

District Court Judge William Orrick, in the denial of an ETS motion to dismiss all charges, wrote, "If the testing provider complies fully with the requirement that its tests measure equally the abilities of disabled and nondisabled test takers, there would be no need for flagging."

Breimhorst and ETS reached a settlement in which ETS agreed to cease flagging on all ETS tests as of October 2001. While it is a separate entity from the College Board, the ETS develops and administers tests owned by the College Board, such as the SAT and AP. It was agreed that a panel would be convened to examine the practice of flagging on College Board tests. …

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