A reader e-mails me in response to the final comments on my last post: “Professor Rizzo, I really need to hear more about some of those nutty things the college allows. Can you share one more with us?”
Your wish is my command.
Students with Learning Disabilities.
Let’s not question whether this makes sense, or whether students can mine the system to their advantage. Let’s be charitable and assume that every single disability I get is legitimate. (As an aside, you would be astonished to see exactly what students tend to be learning disabled, it was quite a surprise to me).
One common exemption these students are given is double-time on exams. While this may or may not be an OK thing to do (for example, part of what I think a good economist make-up is an ability to think on your feet quickly, so now I am no longer able to test that aspect of my material), let’s just assume it is. My view is that if I give one student double time, then I should give all students double time. And I do that. For example, rather than giving my exams in class (in my Intro class), which lasts for 75 minutes, I get a common exam time and room and all of my students are allowed 3 hours to complete it.
That may or may not be absurd, but here is something that is. All of the final exam slots here are scheduled for 3 hours. Well, I usually write a 90 minute final, and then allow all students to spend 3 hours thinking about their exams. This accommodates everyone, so I thought.
On more than one occasion, I have had students with special needs complain to me that this practice was unfair to them. And when they make arrangements via our college to have testing accommodations, I have been asked to allow them not just 3 hours, which is already double time that I give the entire class, but you guessed it, six hours.
My aim here is not to discuss how pervasive the special needs problem is, whether we should do anything about it, etc. My point is that even when I am “doing the right thing” by accommodating my students, that is not good enough. If you give everyone the same privilege, some believe that it entitles them to even more. You know what I think of that. I’ve run regressions on course performance for these students, and the results are interesting, but I don’t have proper controls to make any serious comments about how well they really do. That might be a nice topic for a research project.