The controversy over the fairness of the SAT to determine a student’s college readiness has been present for years. One side of the issue argues that the SAT favors students that have access to the necessary funds for private tutors and special study tools, putting students of low-income families at a severe disadvantage. An additional argument against the SAT is the disadvantage facing students who took particular high school courses earlier than other students, making them less likely to retain the information for the SAT. Another side argues that the SAT is not biased and that any student, no matter how much money they have, can perform well on these standardized tests, making it the best way to evaluate a student’s skillset going into college. Several studies in the past few years have revealed that, not only do many colleges in America NOT require the SAT scores of a student, but they also have made statements alluding to a heavier emphasis on a student’s GPA rather than test scores when determining college readiness. Colleges should begin to shift towards GPA importance instead of SAT scores in order to accurately predict how prepared a high school student will be when they begin college.
As the cliché statement goes, “money can’t buy happiness,” but could it possibly buy better test scores for high school students? When examining the scores from the SAT in 2015, Jim Hull (senior policy analyst for the National School Boards Association) observed “students from wealthy families tend to out-score students from low-income families by about 400 points”, making it apparent that “low-income students are fighting an uphill battle” (Fulciniti). 400 points can make a significant difference in what type of school a student gets into, or if they even get into college at all. The dean of admissions at Lawrence University also pointed out “Back when kids just got a good night’s sleep and took the SAT, it was a leveler that helped you find the diamond in the rough” (Chan, 2012). Nowadays, the system has been corrupted by wealthy parents who will stop at nothing to give their child a better chance at scoring high by “enrollin[ing] their kids in a Kaplan course, [hiring] private tutors or even a diagnostician who will classify [their] child as learning disabled and therefore eligible to take the SATs without time limits.” (Chan, 2012) It is safe to say that parents will ruthlessly use their money as a weapon to get their students better scores than those not fortunate enough to afford such study tools.
The SAT’s catering toward high-income students has put a stunt on the number of minorities the go on to attend college, especially at the more prestigious institutions such as Harvard or Yale. A report from 2013 discovered “white students tend to enroll at the nation’s leading colleges while black and Latino students largely attend schools with lower admissions standards” (Zinshteyn, 2015). Even Latino and black students with “A” grades in high school “matriculated at a community college 30 percent of the time,” making the number of African-American and Hispanic students who scored high on the SAT but did not attend college over 111,000 annually (Zinshteyn, 2015). There is something very wrong with this picture. Why would bright, successful students not pursue post-secondary education? For minorities, it is discouraging to always fight an uphill battle, especially for something that should be a level playing field, like academics. Many minorities do not attend college simply because their friends or family members were not able to get in due to the bias of standardized tests. The results of a biased test like the SAT are profound: “Since 1995, the U.S. has missed out on about 2 million black and Latino students completing a post-secondary degree” (Zinshteyn, 2015). If the predisposed SAT was no longer a factor in students’ acceptance into college, post-secondary schools across the nation would increase their enrollment significantly, which helps both the school (making more money) and the students (receiving an education).
Fairness to students of all incomes is not the only area where the SAT falls short. Unlike the SAT, a student’s GPA serves the purpose of documenting their dedication to schoolwork over the course of their entire high school career. GPA is considered “a useful additional tool for making more holistic course placement decisions, because it contains unique and valid information, not captured by standardized exam scores, about students’ likelihood of succeeding in college courses.” (Schaffhauser, 2017). Placing heavier emphasis on the importance of a high GPA rather than high test scores would diminish the advantage that high-income students have and force them onto a level playing field in which all students, no matter what their income is, must work hard throughout high school to earn college admission and scholarships.Additionally, Thomas pointed out research “showing that students’ high school grades and the rigor of the courses they take in high school are the best predictors of college grades.” Students’ hard work during high school helps predict how dedicated they will be to their studies in college, making their GPA the most accurate tool when determining if they are college-ready. Similarly, a study executed by William Hess former Dean of Admissions for Bates College, revealed “Students with good grades and modest testing did better in college than students with higher testing and lower school grades.” (Schaffhauser, 2017) The study also concluded “Four-year, long term evidence of self-discipline, intellectual curiosity and hard work; that’s what matters the most” (Schaffhauser, 2017), proving the point that GPA is indeed the most reliable indicator of college readiness and should be the main point of evaluation for college admissions counselors when evaluating a student’s application.
It has been disputed that the SAT is a good representation of how well a student can take tests, which is a valuable skill to have in college. While this may be true, the ability to take a test is not the only factor that should be considered when determining a student’s college readiness. To be successful in college, a student must be self-motivated and dedicated to their studies throughout their entire college experience, while also having the ability to balance extracurricular activities, all of which are represented in a student’s high school transcript. Test-taking skills are things that can be taught, whereas the drive and curiosity to learn is something that is adapted throughout high school. In a study conducted by William Hiss, it was discovered that, “in a significant number of cases, the students who have perfectly sound high school records, but much less impressive SAT scores, do fine in college.” His research proves that SAT scores are not a promising factor when calculating the potential success of high school students going into college.
Top students often get punished in their SAT scores because the topics that are on the standardized tests are from curriculum they took as high ability classes towards the beginning of their high school careers. Students not as advanced take certain classes later on in high school, making their memory of these subjects much more vivid. According to a study conducted by PrepScholar, “A typical top college applicant takes high level Calculus or at least Pre-Calculus in 11th grade by the time he/she takes the SAT. But the math on the SAT is Algebra I and Geometry, which advanced students normally study in 7th, 8th or 9th grade” (Fulciniti). Not only does the SAT express bias toward high income students, but it also gives a distinct advantage to students who did not challenge themselves in high school and took on less strenuous schedules. A student who took algebra as a junior rather than as a freshman is much more likely to retain the information for the SAT, giving them a higher score and making them appear more “college-ready” than the student who took more rigorous classes in high school.
Ultimately, the SAT has many flaws that have been ignored by college admissions counselors for years and years. The standardized test gives advantages to high-income students and disadvantages to student who took more challenging classes earlier on in their high school career. GPA has been proven to be a better college readiness indicator because of its documentation of long term dedication to school work. Colleges across the nation should join the 840 institutions that have already ruled out the SAT requirement for admission (Adams, 2017) and communicate to high school students the importance of maintaining good grades from freshman to senior year. With this method, low income as well as high ability students are not at a disadvantage and all students are evaluated on a level playing field. A student’s commitment to their schoolwork in high school is likely going to be mirrored as they go onto pursue a college education, whereas a test score is relative and cannot accurately predict how a student will cope with the workload they are given in college. Over the course of the next few years, colleges should completely diminish the validity of SAT scores and, instead, reward students for high GPA’s they obtained during their four years in high school.
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