Written by: Cooper Aspegren
Performance on the SAT is one of the most significant factors in a college’s decision to admit or deny a student from enrollment. Because organizations like U.S. News and World Report rank universities based on the distribution of freshmen SAT scores, colleges seek to admit students who perform highly on the SAT as a means of increasing their prestige. This approach, however, excludes too many students with lower socioeconomic status (SES) from standing a chance at earning an acceptance letter. The format and competition involved in SAT test taking significantly and undeservedly inhibits the ability of socioeconomically disadvantaged students to successfully enroll in the college of their choice.
A student’s SES has long been linked to his or her performance on the SAT. Cumulative findings even pushed the College Board, the company that finances and operates the SAT, to eliminate the analogy portion which involved comparisons of two different sets of words, from the critical reading section in 2003. Critics beforehand had complained that only wealthy students could correctly answer a question involving crew, a sport typically pursued by higher-class members of society. The particular question required test takers to equate an “oarsman” with a “runner” and a “regatta” with a “marathon.” Even after the removal of the analogy section, research from the Harvard University Educational Review and other academic media still found 200 to 300 point discrepancies in the performances of advantaged and disadvantaged students, on the critical reading and writing sections in particular. These studies serve as clear links to the test’s inherent socioeconomic bias.
Socioeconomically disadvantaged test-takers simply cannot afford the benefits of SAT preparation services in the form of private tutors or classes that cost thousands of dollars. Without outside help to prepare for the test, socioeconomically disadvantaged students cannot enjoy the same increase in score as can their more privileged contemporaries. Many socioeconomically disadvantaged students therefore cannot reach the interquartile SAT score range of the school of their choice; as a result, they are unfairly forced to dial down on their college aspirations. Researchers have also noticed that a higher income leads students to a far greater breadth and depth of personal and academic experience independent of test tutoring, ultimately equating with a higher SAT score. Without this level of experience and opportunity, socioeconomically underprivileged students face an unjust disadvantage.
The College Board’s defense of its administration of the SAT lies in evidence that the test accurately indicates a student’s performance at the college level. However, Princeton University researchers have found that other academic factors, such as class rank, serve as more precise predictors.
The fact that the SAT bars so many students with potential on the basis of socioeconomic status makes its ultimate importance and usefulness far from certain. Recently, universities have started to take notice. Some schools, such as Sarah Lawrence College, have completely abolished SAT scores as a factor into admissions decisions. Another option some colleges have turned to is to consider denoting SAT score submission as non-required. Schools like Bowdoin College, American University, College of the Holy Cross and Pitzer College have already taken this route, while the UC system and even Harvard University are considering to do so in the future. Without eliminating its inherent bias, the SAT will continue to lose what is left of its relevance.