Should The SATs Matter?

Rory King, Co-Editor In Chief

“We are SAT/ACT optional” is a sentence that can be increasingly heard on the campus tours of many colleges across the country. The SAT exam is synonymous with the college application process, and thus the apparent phasing out of the exam as a major staple of one’s application will seem strange to some. But breaking down the pros and cons of having a so-called “standardized” test play a major role in whether or not a student is admitted to a university shows that this is something that should have occurred a long time ago.
An extreme example of the potential unfairness of the SAT is of course the controversy that arose last year, after an investigation, known as Operation Varsity Blues, unveiled high-profile cases of bribery by well-known figures, notably actress Lori Laughlin. The cases often involved bribery of school officials to improve test scores and other illegitimate actions to enhance a child’s application by the parents. This controversy has played a large part in adding to the negative narrative surrounding the college application process as it showed an incredible level of bias based on income. But there are less news-worthy reasons for the SAT and ACT being inaccurate indicators that are just as notable and even more widespread.
The wealthier a student is, the greater advantage they will have when it comes to standardized tests. According to CNBC, “A 2015 analysis from Inside Higher Ed found that… the lowest average scores were among students from families who make less than $20,000 in family income, while the highest averages were among students from families who make more than $200,000.” The reasoning behind the discrepancy isn’t IQ but rather the level of preparation students receive. Richer kids have the ability to partake in specialized prep courses which will show them the ins and outs of the test, a luxury more impoverished students lack. As a result, the system ends up with an inherent imbalance which means less fortunate students have lower scores contributing to a less impressive application.
So, since the imbalance appears to be striking between rich and poor, it may seem prudent to simply apply a curve based on income. However, this would only harm other students. Even if a student has the means to enroll in a prep course, that does not guarantee that they will enroll in one. Therefore, their score is not boosted as significantly by their wealth, and they would suffer from a curve as stated. There are also factors aside from wealth, such as cultural differences and simply the fact that psychologically, some people are better test takers than others, which contribute to the idea that standardized tests aren’t standardized as they don’t create an equal playing field and so can’t be used as a benchmark for students’ ability.
Of course, doing well on the SAT is tremendous and deserves applause, but it has to be said that the test is not a fair indicator of the ability or potential of every student due to different levels of preparation which correlate with wealth.