Problems with the SAT

By Nancy Herrera '15Guest Contributor

After the creation of PACDI (the President’s Advisory Committee for Diversity and Inclusivity), and with the on-going progress on writing a strategic plan for diversity and inclusivity, I urge everyone at Scripps to re-consider the admissions requirement of submitting a standardized test score. In the next issue, I will tackle the alternatives to requiring a standardized exam, as part of college admissions is about finding objective measures by which to compare one person to another. Stay tuned!

The SAT is inherently biased and does not measure academic skills

Studies show that the results on the SAT Reasoning test are directly correlated with family income. Students who come from more well-off families tend to do better on the exam. In addition, the test is biased against African American students, and to a lesser extent Latino(a) students.

Even more so when compared to other standardized tests, the SAT does not measure academic performance. The SAT writing section only measures how fast someone can churn out a formulaic essay in 25 minutes. The reading comprehension and math section serve as ways to measure how well someone can approximate and do as little work as possible under a time-limit. Evidence of this can be found by reading any Princeton Review prep book. In addition, the College Board now sells their own SAT prep materials. Keyanay Colvin ‘15, commented, “It’s like they are saying you can have the answers, if you pay the right price.”

A 2006 study by the College Board, the organization in charge of making the SAT, showed that there is a correlation between high SAT scores and good performance in the first year of college. It did nothing to predict success in any other year of college, and did not correlate with students’ graduation rate. In addition, the correlation is less significant when it comes to Latino(a) students. According to research done by Colby College, success in the SAT Subject tests is more indicative of academic success. However, Scripps does not require these exams for admissions. The New SAT...Again

The College Board has announced this year that it is planning on redesigning the SAT in order to focus more on core academic standards. In this way, it will become more like the ACT. This makes sense due to the fact that 2013 is the first year that more people took the ACT rather than the SAT. However, according to “A New SAT” by Scott Jaschik, the 25-minute essay writing portion and the math portion will remain the mostly the same.

Becoming SAT-optional would allow Scripps to remove itself from every problematic aspect of the SAT. Rather than wait for the new version to come out, and then for new research to appear to see if it is effective, Scripps can focus on using a holistic admission model that does not include standardized exams. A Step Forward in Scripps' Diversity and Inclusivity

Eliminating the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement could be a step forward in increasing Scripps’ diversity, something it aims to do in creating the Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusivity. This is because making admissions testing optional tends to increase the amount of applications from traditionally underrepresented students. According to Inside Higher Ed and the Huffington Post, this has been the case in Wake Forest University and Pitzer College. Students disproportionately affected by the testing system, such as African Americans and students with lower incomes, now would not have a demerit in their applications. This means that more students would feel comfortable applying. In addition, there is a weight of anxiety that is removed from applicants with low scores, as now they do not have to worry about inherently having a disadvantage to the rest of the pool.

As previously mentioned, Scripps would then also allow students without access to the SAT or ACT to apply. The exam is expensive, with the SAT costing $51, and the ACT costing $52.50. Most students take at least one of these tests twice. Reporting scores to colleges for the SAT is free (for up to four colleges) with registration and $11.25 afterwards. This is the same with the ACT, with a charge of $12.00 dollars for each additional school. Students with an income of $43,568 or less (in a household of four) are eligible for a fee waiver, which covers the cost of the exam and reporting to a maximum of four colleges. Everyone else has to pay the full price.

There is no way to request fee waivers directly from ACT or the College Board, so students must depend on their schools to obtain them. There are schools where SAT fee waivers are scarce, and students who simply cannot obtain a fee waiver in time for the exam, so they apply to either the California State University system or SAT/ACT optional private colleges.

The Scripps College Academy, which assists high school students from underrepresented backgrounds to get into college, is not eligible to hand out SAT fee-waivers, only ACT ones. These kinds of practices limit students to only being able to take one test over the other, rather than seeing what tests they do their best in. In addition, the College Board lowers the amount of fee waivers given to a school if students use them and do not show up the day of the exam. Through this practice, entire schools can suffer from fee-waiver shortages. Scripps, by becoming SAT and ACT optional, will not have to worry that it potentially excluding great students because of their inability to pay for the exam or find a fee-waiver in time. Improving Scripps' Image

During the last Board of Trustee meeting, I brought up the idea of making standardized exams optional. As a student body, we had a small discussion about it; most students were on board with the idea, because it would improve Scripps’ prestige. Scripps would join the ranks of other top tier colleges, such as Swarthmore and Mount Holyoke, which have gotten rid of the standardized testing requirement. These other colleges are evidence that it is possible to still have a holistic admissions process without the need for the SAT or ACT. These schools typically become more selective. If Scripps becomes SAT optional, it will be able to open its doors to students who cannot access the SAT and to those who prefer to not take the exam as a political statement. Therefore, it is likely that applications will increase, and there will be more of a chance to pick the best from those who previously fell through the cracks. Students with a high SAT or ACT score will still choose to report it in their application, and so the overall average SAT scores will increase. These two factors may cause our school’s national ranking to increase, a nice bonus for taking a good action.

Stay tuned for Nancy Herrera's upcoming article about alternatives to the SAT for the college admissions process.