SATs should be optional—permanently
Every March, thousands of high school juniors sit for the SAT, a standardized test meant to assess their readiness for college through multiple questions in math and reading. The SAT has long been thought of as an equal playing field that provides colleges a baseline in which to compare students. However, studies show the complete opposite: a direct correlation between SAT score and wealth.
Research conducted by John J. Mccardle of the University of Southern California and Ezekiel J. Dixon-Roman of the University of Pennsylvania found average SAT scores increase with annual income, with students from families earning more than 100,000 annually scoring nearly 300 points higher than those from families earning less than 10,000. Possibly even more concerning is the correlation between SAT score and race which favors those who are white, suggesting SAT scores are also impacted by racial disparities.
Many may be wondering why there is so much discrepancy in SAT scoring. After all, the test asses knowledge that all students should know by 11th grade: reading comprehension, grammar, basic algebra, and geometry. However, the SAT, like all standardized tests, can be mastered and a whole slew of test prep material exists for those who can afford to pay. There are private tutors who help students with test-taking techniques, whose rates can go for over 200 dollars an hour. An expensive prep program, like the one created by Princeton Review, can secure students a score of 1500 or higher by drilling them with SAT-type questions. This prep course is priced at over 4,000 dollars. Those with the means to have their children accessed by specialists can take advantage of the SAT’s accommodations for students with learning disabilities and gain more test-taking time. As highlighted in the Varsity Blues documentary, those in the 1% can even engage in illegal and highly expensive methods, like paying somebody else to take the exam for them.
In a world with all these advantages thrown into the laps of the wealthy, how could underprivileged students stand a chance? If colleges truly want to keep students on an equal playing field, the SAT needs to stay optional—permanently.
Keeping the SAT optional benefits all students. Those from low-income backgrounds will be compared against their peers rather than against those with access to SAT prep programs. Students who have the ability to access test prep materials can use the SAT as a way to bolster their application and make up for lower scores in other areas. Rather than studying for the SAT, students across all income levels will have more time for work, sports, and enriching extracurriculars should they choose to forgo testing.
In response to coronavirus, many colleges have gone test-optional, but the question lies in whether these institutions will continue this policy once coronavirus has ended. Schools like Brown have recently taken the leap into going permanently test-optional, and other colleges like Bates have been test-optional since the ‘80s. Coronavirus has only highlighted the importance of this movement and colleges should consider a vital question moving forward: will their student body be any less “ready” for college next fall? I think not.
Dixon-Roman, Ezekiel & Everson, Howard & Mcardle, John. (2013). Race, Poverty and SAT Scores: Modeling the Influences of Family Income on Black and White High School Students' SAT Performance. Teachers College Record. 115.
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