Schools should provide more standardized test recourses


In 1926, a grand total of 976 students took the newly introduced college assessment test called the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Little did those students know that 92 years later, over 1.5 million students would be preparing to take the same test, now considered one of the most important tests in a student’s high school career. As the number of test-takers of standardized tests like the SAT has dramatically increased, so has the dependency on preparatory (prep) courses and resources. In fact, SAT and American College Test (ACT) prep courses have heralded the rise of a whole new industry, You can get ACT prep books here; every year, a new set of students cycle through the process to increase their test scores. However, the rise of reliance on outside institutions has caused prices for quality test prep materials to increase, thus putting students unwilling or unable to pay such costs at an inevitable disadvantage when taking the tests. Therefore, in order to allow all students ac- cess to affordable standardized test prep courses, teachers, staff and administration should encourage more students to take the Basic College Skills elective, as well as support the creation of more school-provided SAT/ACT prep resources.

In the current system of SAT and ACT prep, higher quality prep classes are becoming more and more expensive, especially in the Bay Area. Prices are rising so high that the economic status of certain students decide whether or not they will be able to access such resources. Rather than reflecting the academic skill or intellectual ability of students, standardized test scores reflect the money that families are willing to pay for SAT or ACT prep, violating the core purpose of these tests. According to the Educational Testing Service, standardized tests are supposed to provide colleges with “a fair assessment that eliminates bias or unfair advantages. This is done to ensure that all test-takers have an equal chance to show ability on the test.” However, this description of their purpose in no way accurately portrays what these tests are really measuring due to the ever-growing divide between those who can afford prep courses, and those who cannot. This divide is only furthered by the burdensome costs of test prep courses in the United States. Where simple, self-guided online courses can cost between $10 and $50, other courses, such as instructor-led classes, can cost up to $1,000 for 30 hours of instruction and private tutoring costs average at around $100 per hour. Those prices only increase in the Bay Area, specifically in the Silicon Valley. AJ Tutoring, a prominent tutoring organization that has locations around the Bay Area, has SAT and ACT private tutoring that costs $150 per hour, and Advantage Testing in Silicon Valley costs around $250 per hour for private tutoring.

While parents may want to provide their child with the best opportunities (educationally and beyond), some families are financially incapable of paying for SAT/ACT courses of the same quality as other high-income families. In fact, studies have shown a clear correlation between higher SAT scores and family income. In 2009, the New York Times published several graphs using data from College Board reports that illustrate this correlation. The data showed that students from families with an income of $20,000 or lower scored an average of 440 points for each section: reading, writing and math. On the other hand, students from families with an income of $200,000 or above on average received scores of 567 points. These statistics show quantitative evidence that the standardized testing system is rigged against lower-income families.

It is true that some students may be dissuaded from taking the given course at Gunn because it takes up a period during their semester when they could have a prep or take another course. Nevertheless, the benefits of taking this class far outweigh the costs of losing a single period during the semester. Taking Basic College Skills not only helps teach students about both testing prep and college essay writing, but it is also completely free and would take away a significant financial burden. Unfortunately, the values of taking such a course are rarely known on campus or discussed as an option between students and their parents. The administration should take a number of measures to increase awareness of the course, such as requiring it to be a conversation point in the Junior Counselor conversation that is mandated by the school. Additionally, the benefits of taking these courses should be discussed during parent-teacher night, in mass emails to students’ parents and in district-wide announcements.

However, since there are still many students who are either uninformed or unwilling to take Basic College Skills, the school administration should invest in more SAT/ACT prep resources at Gunn.

Firstly, an advertising and outreach step should be taken to increase awareness about the resources available through the already-set-up Naviance account. The account granted to Gunn students allows for free online preparation resources that are not widely known within the student body.

Additionally, although the library provides some SAT prep books for students to borrow, the school administration should host a school-wide, or even district-wide, SAT/ACT prep book donation drive where students who have completed standardized tests can donate their prep books to the school. Following the book drive, the school can choose to either redistribute the books to students about to take the test, or allow them to be borrowed from the library. This would then allow students to access a wide variety of material for the SAT, Advanced Placement (AP) tests, ACT or SAT subject tests without needing to pay for the books themselves. However, as much as studying from prep books can help, some students learn better with in-person lessons. This is why the administration should allow students and staff members to volunteer as after-school tutors. Many seniors and juniors have the knowledge and experience to tutor other classmates and prepare them for the upcoming tests. This system would be exactly the same as what is already provided at Gunn for other subjects such as languages and math. Students who have already taken the test might have advice on strategies and test-taking skills to help other students and could gain community service hours while tutoring. The addition of after-school tutoring would eliminate problems that some students might have with SAT/ACT prep taking up time from their school schedule. Furthermore, school officials could set up after-school or Flex Time presentations from local tutoring organizations to give free lessons to large masses of students. The administration would not only be helping the school community, but also the Palo Alto community by supporting local businesses.

Students’ academic opportunities should not be limited by the financial abilities of their family. If the administration is committed to leveling the playing field so that students of lower-income families will have equal opportunities as those from higher-income families, then it should commit to encouraging students to take Basic College Skills as well as increase the resources that the school provides for SAT and ACT prep.