Laying the SAT to Rest

By Angel Perez

When the news broke about the introduction of a shorter, digitized form of the SAT, the sanctity of this infamous “standardized” test was called into question for a second time in recent history. After the discovery that celebrities, including Full House’s Lori Laughlin, manipulated the results of their children’s tests for the oh-so-prestigious USC and other elite universities, it became evident to many that this piece of the college admissions puzzle can, in fact, be manipulated by wealthy test-takers with a willingness to score highly at all costs. 

The dawn of the online SAT will give way to a new age of test-taking in which these students will no longer have to jump through hoops to raise their scores beyond the scope of personal ability. Instead, private at-home tutors and test-savvy family members will become an easily accessible source of information during the test. This increased capacity to cheat, however, is not the only disparity the new version of the SAT will exacerbate. 

The shortened version of the test promotes the use of calculators in all sections and requires a consistent internet connection for multiple hours – both of which are often inaccessible to low-income communities. Built-in biases are also present, as performance by race suggests that questions are tilted towards white test-takers. Despite recent concerns over the ways in which the SAT disproportionately favors wealthy white and Asian students while placing many students of color at a systemic disadvantage, the College Board has continued to insist that the most helpful solution is to continue tweaking the exam until the point of equity. However, the true solution is much simpler: abolish the SAT altogether. 

Obtaining equity in standardized testing is oxymoronic because these examinations are far from standard. Despite presenting SAT scores as comparable data points that can be effectively compared across large groups of students, the reality is that this exam is inaccurate and highly coachable. As the College Board continues to advocate for the use of the SAT as a definite standard for college admissions, the concept that a student who had never been given an opportunity to succeed could shine on the SAT was merely offered as propaganda to discourage questions regarding the efficacy of the so-called “standardized’ test. In reality, courses that cost between $200 and $300 per hour promise “score guarantees” that ensure students above a 1500 on the exam, automatically placing every one of them in the top 5th percentile of test-takers. 

These courses do not promise to instill students with deep, meaningful knowledge about the intricacies of reading comprehension, grammar, and mathematics. Instead, tutors are tasked with informing students about the structure of the test itself in order to encourage an approach based on securing the maximum number of points regardless of one’s knowledge on the subject areas. Despite its inaccuracy, the format of the SAT is highly predictable, and tutoring services can prepare students for what they will face during the exam without encouraging any actual learning. 

It could not be clearer that intelligence and overall scholastic preparedness is not tested by the SAT – only direct preparation, familiarity with the exam, and the ability to think in a way that is consistent with the College Board’s provisions. If one’s transcript is said to be a holistic view of their academic performance across the entirety of high school, their SAT score is simply a metric of preparedness during a particular three-hour stretch on a Saturday morning. 

So, why not utilize an element of students’ transcripts as this comparable data point for college admissions? Before the extenuating circumstances provided by COVID-19, this idea has been snubbed by admissions officers for decades under the false pretense that grade point average is an unbalanced metric that depends greatly on the grading system at each individual school. In reality, a vast majority of colleges recalculate students’ GPAs to place everyone on a semi-equal playing field. Many universities also generate school or regional analysis reports to compare students within their school and school district to understand the relative success. 

Whether or not College Board administrators agree, the importance of the SAT is rapidly dwindling. While some universities had already abandoned consideration of scores for admissions, quarantine resulted in students being unable to the SAT, and a growing number of colleges began to issue statements of test-optionality and test-blindness in the midst of mass cancellations. Now, with a completed round of college admissions that could not consider the “objective data point” of SAT scores, it seems illogical to revert to this practice. 

More than half of the four-year colleges in America have renewed their test-optional policies for another admission cycle, and, because students can now decide whether or not to submit, SAT scores have an even more biased metric that can’t be compared heterogeneously. All of the University of California schools have announced that they will remain test-blind until 2024, and, while test-optional policies reflect a move towards a more equitable admissions processes, considering the SAT in its new stage will only serve to exacerbate the disparities the test has already been proven to create. 
In one fell swoop, the College Board managed to create avenues for further exploitation of the college admission process by the wealthy, provide the danger for an even more internally biased assessment system, and practically destroy the competition presented by the ACT. Instead of reinforcing the importance of this test by (poorly) modifying it, university systems across the country must strip away all consideration of SAT scores in order to tackle inequality at the admissions level and dismantle the College Board’s pattern of biased examination. In the midst of this debacle between test-required, -blind, and -optional, the truly ideal outcome for college admissions would include a College Board statement that reads, “Here lies the SAT, a champion for gross inequity and aggressively outdated educational practices.”

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