Much has been made about the state of standardized testing and its role in college admissions. For years, the College Board (SAT) and the American College Testing company (ACT) have been offering these exams which claim to measure students’ readiness for college. Colleges, especially the more selective ones, put an uncanny amount of weight on the scores as student applications make their way through selection committees.
More recently, and sped up by the pandemic, more and more colleges have gone test optional, allowing students to choose whether they would like to submit their scores. The goal is to level the playing field for those unable to access the resources necessary to properly prepare for the exams. This half-step, however admirable, is not enough -- now it is time to get rid of the exams for good.
Selective colleges often espouse their holistic approach to their admissions process only to deny student after student, many of them who check all the boxes save for an off-the-charts standardized test score. It’s easy to connect the dots. By eliminating the SAT/ACT from the admissions criteria completely, meaning colleges would be test blind, would put the focus back on the five core elements of the college application: grades, course rigor, essay or personal statement, extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters.
While the College Board and American Testing Company have tried in recent memory to support lower income students who cannot afford test prep (the crux of the problem) by offering free support through Kahn Academy and ACT Test Prep respectively, it’s the old adage of you get what you pay for. If we think these free resources turn the same trick as 1:1 tutoring that can cost between $150-$500 an hour, we are kidding ourselves.
For selective colleges, this amounts to pay-for-play. And for lower income students this doesn't just create an uneven playing field, it has them playing on a different field (and over the river and through the woods) altogether. The results are clear and stark.
Here in New York for instance, New York City Department of Education students score on average 50-65 points lower on the SAT vs other students in the state and 30-50 points lower vs the rest of the nation. And the gaps are growing. Of course, this has very little to do with student capacity or capability, but everything to do with access and equitability. (Not to mention the long-studied belief by many that the exams are biased against lower income and minority students.) An excerpt from Inside Higher Ed lays it out:
For the SAT, out of 1600 total possible points, mean 2019 scores were 1223 for Asians, 1114 for whites, 978 for Hispanics/Latinos and 933 for African Americans. The most recent figures for income (derived from class of 2016 high school students) show an average SAT score of 1230 for students with household incomes more than $200,000; 1120 for those with household incomes between $80,000 and $100,000; and 1060 for students whose household incomes ranged between $40,000 and $60,000.
In truth, the exams are not good for any of the people that that companies and the colleges are serving: the students. Increasingly I am getting younger students and their parents asking me about the exams. Many are beginning to prepare for them in the spring of sophomore year. Think about that. At 15 years old, we have kids worrying about an exam that they will take on a couple of Saturdays that has not proven definitively to show aptitude or college readiness after all. Now, more than ever, we need to provide tools and outlets that support students' health, happiness, and safety and doing somersaults over a test does the exact opposite.
Add it all up and it seems counterproductive at best and a continued overstep by the companies and colleges alike at worst. The time seems ripe for reducing the heat on the college admissions process while providing measures to reverse the trend of inequitable access for students of color and lower income students.
Let’s take a giant step forward and do away with the SAT and ACT for good.