Alexia Hartogensis '19 Focuses on MCAT Testing Accommodations as U.S. Senate Intern

This article originally appeared in The Compass Spring/Summer 2020 issue. 

After graduating from Rye Country Day School in 2019, Alexia opted for a gap year before attending Harvard University. Her goal during this time was to work directly with lawmakers, with a focus on dyslexia advocacy. 

“I knew that I wanted to try to intern in the Senate,” she explained. She found that opportunity in the office of Senator Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), who has a track record of consistently advocating for students with learning disabilities. In 2019, Senator Cassidy co-authored the RISE Act, a bill amending the Higher Education Act to allow students with previous documentation of a disability to continue using that documentation when they transition to higher education. In his press release about the bill, Dr. Cassidy stated, “Dyslexia is a lifelong condition, so requiring families to re-pay to re-establish something that is a permanent part of someone’s neurobiology is nonsensical and costly.” 

Having just completed the college admissions process, Alexia realized the importance of supports for dyslexic students that extend beyond primary and secondary school. Her focus during her fall 2019 internship in Senator Cassidy’s office was to research how tests such as the SAT, ACT, LSAT, GMAT, and MCAT handled testing accommodations. “I looked at how many students successfully received accommodations and at the history the tests had with accommodations, specifically what lawsuits they had on the topic,” Alexia said.  

Ultimately, she targeted the AAMC, the organization that facilitates MCAT testing. “I discovered that the MCAT rarely allowed students to receive accommodations unless they had documentation of using accommodations dating back to elementary school,” Alexia shared. In fact, despite the data showing that approximately 1 in 5 Americans has dyslexia, she found that only 0.3% of students who took the MCAT exam between 2011-2013 received accommodations. The disparity between these figures was concerning, and Alexia sought answers from the AAMC on behalf of Senator Cassidy. Her letter to the AAMC noted, “To establish an equal playing field with their peers, a student with dyslexia may simply need extra time on an exam or…text-to-speech assistive technology that…allows a student’s cognitive abilities to shine through.” 

Alexia currently conducts research on 5G, as well as other emerging areas where technology and policy intersect, through an internship with Google in Washington, D.C. When she begins Harvard in the fall, she plans to major in computer science with a minor in applied math.