MCAT to accommodate more students

by Victoria Boggiano | 11/8/06 6:00am

A California Superior Court judge recently ruled that the Association of American Medical Colleges has 60 days to make its administration of the Medical College Admissions Test more accommodating to students with learning disabilities.

This lawsuit was filed after four college graduates with learning disabilities including dyslexia did not receive extra time to take their MCATs in California. The case was later broadened to include all California test takers with learning disabilities.

During the trial the AAMC asserted that giving students with learning disabilities extra time to take the exam would give these test takers an advantage over their peers. The organization believes the California law defines "disability" in terms that are much too broad, so it adheres to the Americans with Disabilities Act to define the term. The ADA defines "disability" as a "substantial limitation" on a student's ability to perform an important life activity.

"I think it's important to make accommodations for people with learning disabilities in education, but I am not sure if the same idea should be applied at a professional level. If the learning disability does not impede an individual's abilities as a doctor, then I don't have a problem with them receiving extra accommodations," premed student Daniel Gomez '09 said.

Ursula Hibbert-Olender, the premed adviser at Career Services, said she believes students should be assessed on a case-by-case basis to see if they need extra accommodations.

"I think it really depends on the diagnosis [of the student] and what is going to level the playing field," Hibbert-Olender said. "I don't think that there's one accommodation that's going to suit every student with a learning disability. There needs to be some determination process on what's going to be the appropriate accommodation ... for the individual."

According to figures reported to Hibbert-Olender, in 2005, none of the 148 Dartmouth students that took the MCATs received any sort of learning-disability testing accommodations, and thus far in 2006, 3 of the 133 Dartmouth have received accommodations for either a physical or learning-related disability.

The AAMC plans to appeal the California court's decision in an effort to maintain one strict national standard that evaluates requests for extra accommodations on the MCATs. The organization fears that applying California laws to the testing process will impair the comparability of MCAT scores, thereby devaluing its usefulness for medical schools when evaluating applicants.