NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 14, 2004

For the past decade, students with learning disabilities (such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder) have often received extra time on exams; in some cases they have even been given separate rooms to reduce distraction. These accommodations have their place, but this is a policy that should be used with great care, warns Virginia Postrel, writing in Forbes magazine.

Currently, it is illegal for testing services to flag scores that were aided by special accommodations when reporting results to professional schools. Therefore, medical schools, for example, have limited ability to discern the degree of manual and mental dexterity of prospective students.

At some point, demands in the marketplace become inconsistent with a policy of unequal treatment in the classroom, says Postrel:

  • What patient wants a genius doctor who can't focus in a distracting environment, reads so slowly that he or she can't keep up with medical journals or tends to misspell drug names on prescriptions?
  • Many situations arise where certain professionals, such as doctors, must perform under pressure, without the help of special accommodations.

There are, of course, excellent physicians with learning disabilities. But they succeeded the hard way, without special accommodations. They demonstrated that they could work around their problems, says Postrel.

Medical training is notoriously grueling for a reason, says Postrel. Patients' lives depend on physicians' ability to perform under pressure. If learning-disabled students can't do well on a timed test, maybe they aren't suited to be doctors.

Source: Virginia Postrel, "Disabilities in the E.R.," Forbes, November 2004.

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