Theresa Soares: Why I Submit My Lowest ACT Scores on Applications

A lack of testing accommodation for the ACT helped influence Theresa Soares to make the case that high-stakes testing in the US is flawed.

“The ACT motivates students to perform to their best ability and often results in increased college enrollment, especially for underrepresented students.” –

We all know that Dyslexia is a learning difference; at least we all should by now. We should also know that we all have learning differences and that really its just history that decided to coin names for the “lucky” ones first. When I found out that my accommodations request for extra time on the ACT was denied, the only thing I could think about was the “big picture.” I am told thinking of the abstract, big picture, broader concept is a characteristic of my right brain learning condition. The big picture in this instance was: How could I be denied the fair opportunity to take such a high stakes test that would ultimately determine my post secondary fate? How could anyone with proof of a legal learning disability or any disability be denied accommodations in the United States? How could such a “test” become so powerful? Who made this test? Where did it come from? “We hear only those questions for which we are in a position to find answers.” – Nietzsche

It was my ultimate conclusion that if I was going to apply to any of the colleges or universities which I had previously visited and researched; I would be forced to take the ACT without extra time accommodations for my learning disability. As a result I enlisted a tutor to help me prepare for my most certain defeat. What was already a test that by no means captured the profound capability and potential of the dyslexic brain also now became a test I would only finish half of in the allotted time. I never even had the chance to finish half the test.

“Test scores reflect what students have learned throughout high school and provide colleges and universities with excellent information for recruiting, advising, placement, and retention.–”

Excellent, Excellent, Excellent information.

The ACT consultant who reviewed my application provided a letter which outlined the reason my accommodations request was denied. When I submitted my request, I didn’t provide enough of a paper trail history of academic struggles with dyslexia (specifically in high school.) I also didn’t have a paper trail which provided I had been a recipient of accommodations throughout high school. This was because my high school didn’t have formal accommodations until my senior year when I was also officially identified with dyslexia. I DID provide records of my official dyslexia identification, and my history of accommodations from kindergarten – 5th grade before I transitioned to an independent 504 plan for middle school. Still though, there was no recent paper trail I could return to for repeal… I was just a ghost “claiming” to be grace with dyslexia.

As the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes: A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities when compared to most people. Major life activities have been defined to include things such as performing manual tasks, caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating. These are tasks normally performed by “most people” in the general population on a daily basis with little or no difficulty.”

What does it mean to be underrepresented today, in July, 2012?

It doesn’t bother me that I can’t read as quickly or write as quickly as the average person because the average person can’t read as deeply, write as deeply, or think as deeply as I can. That’s part of having a name for your learning difference, that’s part of being dyslexic. How do you prove that to a Scantron machine? How do you prove that to a Scantron Nation? This is where my story meets the current educational revolution “wanting” to take place here in the United States.

American Students are misrepresented in society, the only thing that is valued from us is our ability to comply with one size fits all testing methods. We are reduced, and largely represented only by our test scores and GPA’s. Furthermore we are encouraged to continue on this misguided path by the notion of international competition.”The only thing the name “No Child Left Behind” should ever be used for is the name for a NEW proposition that would allow students to vote on matters of education. What we have now is a system that tramples the student voice and ability to think, create and appreciate things beyond just the number line.“It is absolutely essential that the oppressed participate in the revolutionary process with an increasingly critical awareness of their role as subjects of the transformation” – Paulo Freire. All students are underrepresented and misrepresented by the national infatuation for high stakes and one size fits all standardized testing. Everyone thinks they want a number until they realize they actually are one.

7/14/ 1786: 223 years ago today a group of  the “Oppressed “and “Underrepresented “participated in one of the greatest acts of rebellion ever recorded in history. The turning point of the French revolution was marked by the storming of a jail in Paris called the Bastille. The prisoners found inside the jail perhaps point to a deeper microcosm. High stakes tests are designed for students to take. If students don’t take them, then you simply do not have a test anymore. Surely if there will be risk takers then there will be no more test makers. There we might find atop Scantron Nation: a jail, similar to the one stormed 223 years ago in Paris… Not to our surprise we just might find a few corporate prisoners inside. Just maybe…

I should note that in March 2011 ( 4 months before being identified with dyslexia), I took the SAT without any preparation or accommodations and realized that the ACT was a better fit. In October of 2011 I took the ACT where I received a composite score 19 – the equivalent of a 1350 on the SAT. I sent the lower of the two scores: 19/36 to 10 private colleges and universities in the United States. All of which claim that they look at the whole applicant, so I figured that submitting my lower scores wouldn’t matter if they actually read my other application materials, it might even elevate the significance of my essay, recommendations, and GPA. At the time I didn’t think of it as an act of self protest, “I just woke up and hit submit.”…. sound familiar?

It wasn’t until later that I really started to question the system and saw an opportunity for activism. It’s not just the politicians, lobbyists, and bankers that are misguided, When I realized how savagely obsessed American students are with these scores, statistics, numbers it altered my view. In the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti “It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” I was no longer well adjusted, I was awakened by the vary same traditions of American educational meritocracy that had violated my rights, shaken my morals, and reduced me to a simple number in no way indicative of my right brain ability. After some very simple pondering I began to wonder how there could possibly be enough hours in the day to review every application equally. Just do the math. By the spring of 2012, I had received 3 acceptances, 2 waitlists, and 5 rejections. My college essay can be read on TheYale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity’s Website. Who knows if it is was ever actually read by 7 of those admissions offices.

In 1974, a Frenchmen named Philippe Petit walked back and forth on a tight rope between the twin towers in New York City for a total of 40 minutes. “Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge – and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope.” – Man on Wire  I don’t consider myself to be a tightrope walker – at least not by Philippe’s standards… but at the same time, I don’t think people like Philippe do what they do just for themselves. “To lead the orchestra, you have to turn your back on the crowd.” – Max Lucado

Theresa Soares is a blogger, writer, and activist interested in dyslexia, creativity, and cerebro-diversity. Theresa entered her professional career as one of the youngest women ever to be hired by the United States Department of the Navy. After two years at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California, she joined The Harry Singer Foundation in Carmel California where she currently leads philanthropic research and development. She is also the founding and current author of the Ghost-Lexia Blog, where she regularly writes on ways in which dyslexic entrepreneurship is challenging the status quo in both education, and work. On July 14th 2012, she released a blog post revealing how she was forced to submit her lowest ACT scores when she applied to college as a result of not receiving accommodations for her learning difference. This post is perhaps her most significant contribution to the anti-high stakes testing movement to date. Theresa is a student at Mills College in Oakland California where she is currently studying sociology, education, and journalism.

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