Penelope Trunk: “How To Hack Public School”

Take advantage of IDEA and the feds’ disapproval of test-accommodation flagging:

3. Classify your kid as having some sort of learning difference. Get your kid an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) early on so that they get unlimited time taking the SAT. The classification is not reported to colleges, so it’s just seen simply as a really high score.

You might think this is extreme, but in New York City parents get their kid classified as special needs in order to get a leg up getting into elite preschools. So doing this to get into an elite college seems fine. And look, it’s hard to get an IEP when your kid is two years from taking the SAT. Everyone wants an IEP then. It’s easy when you have a first-grader. Most first graders look like they need an IEP when they are in school because school is so uncomfortable for young kids.

[Penelope Trunk]


  • I have a friend that’s a 9th grade science teacher. He’s very annoyed that almost all of the kids in his classes have IEPs. At the end of the day, he doesn’t teach any differently than he did before, but it adds to the paperwork he has to handle for each kid.

    It’s funny, because he teaches in a area full of college-educated parents. They’ve all figured out how to game the system to give their kids the biggest advantages.

  • Meh. While some schools may take a lenient view toward classification, most make it quite difficult, as it’s costly for the school to deal with accommodations. It’s far more likely that students in need of accommodations will be denied than students gaming the system. Having read Penelope Trunk’s post, my take is she has no clue what she’s talking about. Her other suggestions are similarly wrong/flawed and won’t work or won’t serve the purported purpose and will prove extremely counterproductive.

  • Please correct me if I am wrong. It mentions that “the classification is not reported to colleges”. Aren’t colleges prevented from asking by HIPAA laws? The Virginia Tech shooter kind of comes to mind here.

  • I predict that this practice will have the same effect as “affirmative action” in college admissions — it will force colleges to accept a large number of students who have no chance of graduating because they are simply not prepared.

    What an appalling waste of (mostly taxpayers’) money. But that’s not as tragic a loss as the years of these youngsters’ lives that will go to waste in the process.

    If students are not prepared for college, they should be held back in high school (or earlier) so that they don’t go until they are prepared. If that makes it look like high school teachers haven’t done their job, then they haven’t.

  • shg,

    You have to separate school systems with lots of children with actual learning disabilities (aka poor school districts) from school systems with lots of children who’ve been diagnosed by professionals as having learning disabilities. (aka rich school districts).

    There’s no stigma if half of your classmates are also diagnosed as “learning disabled” and since the whole thing can be kept quiet from college admissions officers, the consequences are minimal. Minimal, that is if feeding children amphetamines from the age of 5 has no lasting medical or psychological consequences.

  • Well, Xmas, it would tend to make them hyperactive, feeling entitled and with a moderately expensive drug habit to feed. Sounds like they’ll need to become lawyers.


  • I read the article and found it to be terribly wrongheaded pro-homeschooling propaganda. (Really, instead of “loading up on extracurriculars” and taking a light course load in high school, I did the exact opposite, and when I applied for college, they were impressed by all the hard core academic classes I did in high school – it really works.) However, that does not mean all her points were wrong.
    A few words about IEP’s. Several of my children had them or did have them at one time. In a universe in which education is less regimented, and more individualized than it is today in the US, none of my children would have needed an IEP. However, we have created an education system that deals with differences in learning habits and abilities very poorly, and in many school systems, an IEP is the only way bureacratically available to help the school system tailor your childs education. Most children with IEPs are not drooling basket cases, and my oldest child went off of his IEP during high school (right when Penelope said an IEP would be most helpful to get that extra time on the SAT!) He had a very mild case of Asperger’s / Autism spectrum disorder that, while it still marks his personality, he has been able to learn enough coping skills that he does well without special accomadations. He is currently enrolled at a university, and the university doesn’t know of any “learning disability” that he might have.
    One of the persistently biggest problems in todays educracy is the insistence that anybody can be anything, even though we are all different people (which is why my children needed IEPs – they were not sufficiently “typical” children). I have a daughter who hates school and consistently does poorly in it. Do I 1. Game the system to get her into an elite program that she will hate and eventually flunk. or 2. Steer her towards a vocational route that she will actually like and do well in, and which will equip her with a marketable skill she can survive on. Which would you choose?
    Leland Davis

  • Crap … who this really hurts is the kid who actually needs his IEP.

    I have identical twin grandsons who were born premies (they are now 10 y/o). One is doing fine, the other needs an IEP. He really does have some of the same learning disabilities as his mom, my daughter. Now people gaming the system will make it harder for the little guy?

  • It’s shocking, I know, Darleen, to think that anyone would look at a situation and think “I could profit from it…” and not have the clause “….but it would be wrong” stop them from doing it. No one ever passes up free money or advantages, do they? Especially when it’s the result of badly written legislation.


  • Without taking away from the larger point (that prohibiting disclosure of accommodations will erode the perceived and actual validity of test scores in a way that will be unhelpful to everyone involved, really), it should be noted that the “hack” re: IEPs is glib, and wrong. An IEP may get a student extra testing time for classroom tests, if that is an accommodation that has been specifically agreed upon and included by the IEP team for that student’s I(ndividual) E(ducation) P(lan) that is then in effect. A school IEP doesn’t give the student carte blanche for unlimited testing time on ACTs/SATs (IEPs are under IDEA; accommodations for college testing are under ADA). The process for qualifying for accommodations (based on ADA) on the college tests is actually pretty tough, and requires lots of time, diligence and money. Anyone seeking to go through that process for the purpose of gaming the system should probably be careful what they wish for.