For decades, standardized testing, specifically the SAT, has been under significant scrutiny. Some believe that despite its seemingly unsolvable problems, the SAT is the fairest way to judge how well a student will do in college and in life. Although recently, a test optional trend has grown to include over 1000 colleges. This is mainly to create equal opportunities for students of all backgrounds. College testing has had its problems from the very beginnings, and it needs to undergo major revitalization if it wants to adequately represent a student’s ability.
Around the late 19th century, standardized testing became a phenomenon among particularly elite colleges. In the early 1900s there became a search for a test that would showcase someone’s knowledge no matter their hierarchy. Thus in 1926, the origin of the SAT began. It was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test and was created by Carl Brigham.
Brigham worked with the College Board (founded in 1899) to make the then five day test. The SAT was biased from the start showing that recent mass cheating scandals (such as the Varsity Blues Scandal) are not the first problems for the College Board. In 1926, people could actually pay the College Board a fee to get a heads notice on subject material. On top of that, Brigham originally believed that the SAT further proved the superiority of the “Nordic” race. This belief had such a great influence, that even presidential candidates used Brigham’s studies as evidence. Despite Brigham later debunking this myth, caucasians generally continue to have greater privileges in regards to the SAT.
The SATs were not overly controversial from the start. Things were running smoothly until the number of people taking the SATs skyrocketed from 10,000 to 800,000 during the 1940s to the 1950s. This is when problems began to come to light. Many felt that the questions were more based on memorization than actual intelligence. People also started to realize that the test gave a leg up to wealthy caucasians. Some racist colleges required the SAT in order to monitor certain races that got into the school.
In 2019, the average white, American test taker scored a 1114 where as black or African American students scored on average, a 933. Other demographics also scored significantly lower. The average score for American Indians and Alaskan Natives was 912, and hispanic, latino, and Latin Americans on average scored a 978.
The reason for the discrepancy between these scores is more so tied to economics. According to a 2014 study by the Washington Post, families who made over 200,000$ a year had an average combined SAT score of 1714 where as those who made $20,000 or less a year averaged a combined score of 1326. (Note that this was when the SAT was on the 2400 scale.) The section with the greatest difference between average scores was reading.
A common problem is that many privileged kids are spending thousands to learn how to take the SAT. Although this is legal, many lower class citizens are left behind in the dust because they cannot pay to learn how to raise their SAT scores. The cycle sadly doesn't just end after high school. Higher SAT scores equivalent to higher scholarships which means once again the rich have more opportunities. This puts those in poverty, at an even greater risk.
Although many low-income students are provided a free waiver for a specific amount of SAT tests, the high-income students often are able to take it many more times. International SAT takers are at an even greater disadvantage with costs often being more than many of their parents monthly salaries.
The rich also on average have better access to schools that will prepare them better for college testing. This is due to the, on average, better funded schools. Also, high-income families can afford to send their kids to private schools which have an even greater access to tutoring, AP classes, and standardized test preparation classes. Higher-income students on average are even given more time on the SAT since they are more likely to receive “special ‘504 designations,’” which are often given to those with ADHD or chronic anxiety. This allows students to either work in an independent work space, or have extra time. Many involved in the Varsity Blues Scandal were advised to use the “504 designations” technique.
The College Board has long said that the SAT is “uncoachable”. In fact, they put out a study in 1956 supposedly proving so. If this is true, then why does the College Board offer 99$ SAT sessions and SAT study books? It is true that with the College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy, there has been a greater access to free practice, but the preparation industry continues to grow since its boom in the 1940s.
Even if everyone is on equal financial playing grounds, the SAT is unfair. Why should a music major lose out on thousands of scholarships because their math score wasn’t high enough? Some point to subject tests to showcase the diversity of subjects the College Board offers, but subject tests are expensive and still only include a select amount of subject areas. Since the essay became a separate portion from the SAT, certain talents are further hidden. Many colleges won’t even look at the separate essay score. On top of all this, outlier tests are also an issue. These tests sparked public outrage because the grading scale was so different, that one question could mean the difference of 40 points.
As the College Board makes attempts to improve the SAT, some mistakenly believe that the SAT now best lays out a student’s academic ability. A study called “Defining Promise:Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions.” refuted a study sponsored by the College Board showing that the SATs were a good indicator of student’s college performance. The study researched 123,000 students from 33 colleges. The results found that the GPA and graduation rate of SAT submitters versus that of non submitters were virtually the same with only “five one-hundreths of a GPA point and six-tenths of one percent in graduation rates.” This supports the theory that the SAT does not prove whether or not a student will do well in college. It only shows how they can speed through misleading questions at an early hour in the morning.
Not only is the SAT itself a subject for debate, but The College Board has experienced their fair share of skepticism. The College Board, despite claiming itself as a nonprofit, is a billion dollar business. In defense to this, the College Board points to the millions they have spent making their tests more accurate, but still the profit they make is roughly 14% which is high for even a for profit business.
The college testing industry could improve if it was not such a monopoly. Right now it is only being run by two nonprofits, The College Board, and ACT INC (made in 1959). The College Board though, has developed many more tests, and therefore crushes the profit earned by the ACT INC. The Los Angeles Times wrote, “It is completely unjustified for one private organization to have such a large influence.” If there was more competition in the college testing industry, many companies would work harder to put out fair and affordable tests.
Ironically, many of the colleges which first required the SAT, are now becoming test optional. Perhaps if college admissions paid more attention to student’s transcripts the SATs wouldn’t have to play such a big role in a student's acceptance into a college. Maybe even those involved with the Varsity Blues Scandal would have been discovered to not be star athletes. Nonetheless, the SATs need to continue to be revitalized so that everyone no matter their class or race can have equal opportunities.