BOSTON (CBS) – Whether your kids are in college, have already graduated, or are still years away from getting their diploma, the recent college admissions scandal has sparked outrage and frustration about the entire process. Dozens of wealthy parents are accused of exploiting a benefit meant for kids with impairments or disabilities. This part of the scam got the I-Team’s Christina Hager asking questions about how that system is being used in Massachusetts.
Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman was so desperate to boost the SAT score of her oldest daughter that she paid $15,000 to scam more time on the exam. That extra time then made it possible to cheat.
Huffman intends to plead guilty, stating earlier this month, “I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community. I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.” Huffman said her daughter knew nothing about her involvement in the scam.
“I feel like that’s terrible,” said Brockton High Junior, Elijah Lemar. Elijah has been getting extra time on his tests since he was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade. “If you don’t have a medical condition, I really feel like it’s unfair because kids around here, we don’t have a lot of money like kids in California.”
Elijah is one of thousands of students in Massachusetts who get the educational accommodation called a 504. The 504 is mandated under federal law for students with physical or mental impairments. It guarantees that, when needed, students can get extra time, extra breaks, or work and test in smaller groups.
“It helps me because I feel like it takes the anxiety off. These accommodations… really help me focus and do the best I can,” explained Elijah.
The I-Team has learned that, right now, there are more than 50,000 students across Massachusetts with a 504 accommodation. The number peaks in high school with around 5,400 students on 504s in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. However, senior year 504 plans plummet to just 225 students in the whole state.
“I don’t know. I don’t really know what’s behind that, but it does make you think,” said Cathie Legar, head of the Guidance Department at Brockton High School.
Brockton is one of the few districts where the 504s remain in double digits senior year of high school. Legar told us that many students simply may not need the accommodations once they reach 12th grade.
“They’re done with their testing for college,” she explained, referring to high stakes testing like the MCAS, SAT, and ACT. “In some more affluent areas I think parents know the right places to go to have their students diagnosed and have a document drafted.”
Zoom & Click on a school district below to see 504 accommodations by grade
Gordon Caplan, a New York-based attorney, paid $75,000 to help his daughter cheat on her college entrance exam. This included coaching on how to get the extra time, even though there is no indication she has a learning disability. According to court documents, Caplan was told, “when she gets tested, to be as, to be stupid, not to be as smart as she is. The goal is to be slow, to be not as bright, all that, so we show discrepancies. And she knows that she’s getting all this extra time…”
Like Huffman, Caplan is also expected to plead guilty. In a statement Caplan said “I take full and sole responsibility for my conduct and I am deeply ashamed of my behavior and my actions. I apologize not only to my family, friends, colleagues and the legal Bar, but also to students everywhere who have been accepted to college through their own hard work.” He went on to say his daughter had no knowledge of his actions.
There are concerns that scams like this could make it harder for students with real challenges to get the extra testing time they deserve.
“It may have them take a hard look at their policies,” explained Legar, referring to the groups that administer the college entrance exams. It could be one more thing for hard-working students to worry about.
“I feel like it’s a lot of pressure,” said Elijah. “Because we feel like… it’s our life. If we don’t do good we’re not going to get into a good college and then we’re not going to have a good life after.”