New York Times Releases Story on SAT Test Gap

Every morning I read through my google news feed, scrolling through an odd combination of baseball scores, recipes, and news about education policy. This morning my scrolling stopped on an article in the New York Times from a high school student, Dylan Hernandez, called How I Learned to Take the SAT Like a Rich Kid. Hernandez argues that rich kids know how to compete on the SAT. They know how to go about it — take SAT prep classes, get tutoring, take the test multiple times, start early. Poor kids, on the other hand, do not. Poor kids often sit the test once, without preparation, then accept whatever score they receive. Rich kids actively fight for scores, poor kids passively accept scores.

Despite arguments that the SAT is even and fair for all, Hernandez’s main argument, that wealth leads to better SAT test scores, stands strong. Social scientists recognize that wealth (and other factors like race — see a previous post: Are Standardized Tests Racist?) correlate strongly with high standardized test scores. In other words, the SAT is not closing any gaps between the have and have nots.

Colleges that rely on SAT scores for admission decisions (and high schools that use the SAT to measure growth — see another New York Times article: Rejected by Colleges, SAT and ACT Gain High School Acceptance) perpetuate the current gap. Schools, by giving admission and awards to high scorers, ensure that rich kids, in general, will stay rich adults. Is that what the test is designed to do? Is that what the US education system wants?

Schools know that wealth and race conflate with high test scores, so other factors need to be measured. To combat this conflation, some schools, like the University of Delaware, no longer accept test scores during their admission process. Others, weigh test scores lightly compared to other factors such as grades, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities. Students are complex, evaluations of students should be complex as well.

As a scholar of educational testing, I urge institutions to view test scores critically. The government should not give merit awards based on scores alone (it does — google National Merit Scholars). Schools should not give admission offers based on scores alone (they do as well). Hernandez is right, SAT scores favor the wealthy.

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