Standardized testing season has arrived for many high school students, including the SAT. The scores students earn on the SAT play an important role in what college they attend after graduation. However, the SAT has been criticized for creating an unequal playing field in higher education.
Interestingly enough, the SAT wasn’t always like this. Originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, it was first administered in 1926 as an army IQ test. In 1933, Harvard began using it as an admissions component to encourage a more diverse applicant pool. Other schools followed, and by the 1950s, the test had become a critical college admissions tool. Today, while the SAT is no longer an acronym, it is still a big part of college applications. But because of its standardized nature, it doesn’t create diverse campus populations anymore. Instead, it privileges those who have the resources to ace the exam.
SAT prep classes can help boost test scores. That’s how early tutoring services like Kaplan became the big companies they are today. But these classes cost money, thus only available to those who can afford them. Students from low-income backgrounds may score lower on the SAT not because of their intelligence, but because they didn’t have access to helpful tutoring services. Similarly, not all students attend schools that have the proper resources to prepare them for the SAT. This leads to lower scores that may work against them during the college application process.
The SAT has also been criticized for not reflecting classroom learning and encouraging memorization. This led to an overhaul of the test in 2016 that allowed for more analysis and incorporates new Common Core standards. But this causes another problem, especially for schools that have not caught up with the change in standards. The new SAT also includes longer math problems that requires more reading comprehension, disadvantaging students whose first language is not English. This disproportionally shuts out high achieving students of color who don’t test well according to SAT standards.
These criticisms have created a test-optional movement where a growing number of colleges and universities no longer require mandatory test reporting. These schools are seeing positive effects. Many has had an increase in applicants their first test-optional year. For example, Wake Forest University in North Carolina had a spike in their 2012 incoming class credentials with 79% of incoming students being in the top 10 percent of their high school class compared to 60% the year before. Placing less emphasis on test scores also promotes diversity. A 2014 study by William C. Hiss and Valerie W. Franks show that students who do not submit their scores tend to be of color, women, Pell Grant recipients, and first-generation.
All these show that the SAT is not the most reliable at measuring college readiness. Several studies, including Hiss and Franks, found high school GPAs to be a better predictor of college success. Writing samples that calls for analysis and creativity better highlight students’ talents and reflect the college class rigor. These don’t rely on testing facts, and instead asks students to creatively show what they have learned in high school. SAT and other standardized tests are also not the only way to college. An alternative path through community college (which do not ask for test scores) can also open doors to a student’s dream school.
An over-reliance on SAT and other standardized test results can hide students’ aptitude and skills. These can never be fully captured by any test. Other accomplishments beside high scores can also show where students will blossom in college. After all, they will not always be asked to show what they learned in the classroom but what they’re also doing outside of it.