Standardizing the SAT

The problems with the SAT are becoming increasingly apparent and are in desperate need of amendment. Some students have it better than others. For some, they can only go off of what they learn in school because they don’t have the funds to spend on the study material. If some people do not get the resources of others, can the SAT really be considered a “standardized” test?

This test carries a significant amount of weight in the college admission process, so it is important that all students get an equal chance to demonstrate their abilities and get the education needed to secure a job these days. With some of the material for the SAT only being presented in SAT prep classes, practice tests, and study books, it makes for a disadvantage to the students whose families can’t afford to buy all of the expensive books. The graph below shows just how much of an advantage money gets students.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A1995-SAT-Income2.png

The trend seen is that, as the income increases by $20,000, the average test score in each area increases by an average of 12 points (<http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/sat-scores-and-family-income/?_r=0>).

These materials that the higher-income families can buy just show the students tactics to maneuver the test and tricks that the test-makers use to mess with the test-takers. These tactics are not in the common core curriculum and aren’t common knowledge for all students on the national level. Upon reading the book, SAT 26th Edition by Sharon Weiner Green and Ira K. Wolf, it becomes evident that the SAT is not mainly focused on discovering student intelligence, but rather, their abilities to take this specific test. It is filled with pages and pages of tactics and things to look out for to be able to take the test the most efficiently. One of these tactics is, “For each section of the SAT, the directions given in this book are identical to the directions you will see on your actual exam. Learn them now. Do not waste even a few seconds of your valuable test time reading them”. Another from this book is, “The most common tactical error that students make is trying to answer too many questions”. This does not make sense for a test that is supposed to be standardized. Wouldn’t the point be to see how many questions the student can answer which would directly correspond with how much knowledge they have? The book contains hundreds of other pointers as well as information on tricks that the test-takers incorporate in the exam which can only be foreseen by those who were warned in advance by these materials. This book is essentially the same as all other materials connected to this exam. When I was taking my SAT prep classes, they even gave us a list of people to memorize facts about because the graders love reading essays about these people and they give higher scores to students who know more about them.

With this affecting a major portion of society today, people are voicing their opinions and concerns with the structure and inequality of the SAT. In an article striving to defend the SAT, the authors state, “The SAT measures something — some stable characteristic of high school students other than their parents’ income — that translates into success in college” (http://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/op-ed-why-the-sat-matters-1.7713814). The article then says that what the SAT measures is “general intelligence”. To argue this point, this exam measures an intelligence, but not a general intelligence. It measures the amount of SAT vocabulary and tactics that a student has memorized before taking the exam. It does not measure the general intelligence gained by all students in their high school classes. So, though it measures something, it does not measure a general intelligence, only a mastery of skills and memorization of list upon list of vocabulary and recommended essay topics to work around the system of the test.

College Board is making changes to the SAT to make it more standardized by adding, “longer and harder reading passages and more words in math problems” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/us/sat-test-changes.html?hpw&rref=education&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region®ion=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well). Though these revisions may help to aid the problem that many students face taking this exam, there is still going to be an issue with the ability for students to get the resources they need in order to succeed and level the playing field.

Ben Orlin has some good ideas on how to fix the problems with the SAT in his article “The SAT Should Stop Giving Different Scores to Virtually Identical Performances” (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/05/revise_the_sat_the_college_board_should_give_out_fewer_standardized_test.html). He suggests that the grading system be changed to a mere possible results. This is just like how students are graded in their high school classes on a scale from “F” to “A+”. This would definitely help with the unnecessary differences in scores for students who answer the test almost identically, but it still doesn’t affect the content, which is what is negatively affecting people of a lower socioeconomic status. A possible solution for this would be to base the test content on what is in the national curriculums for the core classes. By focusing solely on the knowledge and not the ability to maneuver the test, it makes it the most fair as possible for all students of all walks of life.

Standardized tests such as the SAT are good in theory, but in reality, they come with many flaws. The SAT must be amended in order to fit the general public and not just specific social classes. America is a land of equal opportunity, and it is difficult for that to be true when so many jobs require a college education and one of the deciding factors in admissions to said colleges is a test that doesn’t properly measure a student’s ability.

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