SAT Shambles 

By Alex Gryciuk 

A universally shared experience amongst seniors applying to college, nothing casts a darker cloud of anxiety and misery than the age old question: will I get in? 

Oftentimes while working through essays, submitting hard earned grades, and staring at a blinking cursor while navigating an overly confusing website, the fear of rejection exists as the only thought in the minds of prospective collegiate scholars until decisions release in April. 

Like yin and yang, on the other side of the screen after application deadlines

pass, yet another age old question arises: who will we admit this year? Who do we want to represent our campus? 

Striving to improve diversity and student body representation on campuses all over the country, colleges implement efforts and programs to balance out the playing field and participate in creating an equitable community where all have equal opportunities. 

But, how can they do that? What are their methods? 

One way, affirmative action, or a policy that works to increase educational and workplace opportunities for historically underrepresented or oppressed demographics, strives to make college admissions fairer. The proactive policy currently exerts strong influence on admission rosters.

The SAT, a more traditional method, serves as an easy way for colleges to supposedly admit students equitably. According to The Princeton Review, “the purpose of the SAT is to measure a high school student’s readiness for college, and provide colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare all applicants.” In other words, the SAT should be able to compare applicants by fairly comparing studious merit for higher level education. 

However, in practice, the SAT fails to assess different gender, socio-economic, and racial groups objectively; oppressing the very people it claims to give an equal opportunity to. 

According to an American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research article, the conclusion that “high school boys are better at math than girls” can be made when analyzing any SAT math result since 1967 where boys have historically outperformed girls. In 2016 specifically, boys scored “an average score of 524 points compared to the average score of 494 [for girls].” A huge gap, the results of the 2016 SAT math portion display a 30 point disparity in scores. 

However, such a score discrepancy fails to accurately represent the mathematical abilities of women. Referencing the same article, studies have found that high school girls perform at an academically higher level than their male counterparts. Representing 56% of students in the top 10% of classes and an overall higher GPA average point average of .15, high school girls also make up 55% of AP and Honors math students. 

Bottom line, women have the same — if not better — academic math scores, but because of questions within the SAT that invoke a stereotype threat, the standardized test causes huge score differences. According to a Forbes article, “stereotypes…raise self-doubts and increase anxiety during high-pressure exams, and result in worse scores.” With questions asking to analyze data that show more males than females in a math class, for example, the SAT invokes the stereotype threat. In fact, “stereotype threat has been shown to account for about 15 points on a 100-point test.” In other words, women who are equally prepared, score 15% lower than men as a result of the SAT questions.

Putting the types of questions aside, if historically women score lower regardless of true academic abilities represented in high school courses, how can an SAT be used to choose who gets to go to specific colleges? In an effort to be fair to all genders, how can a test that favors men, be used?

Discriminating against a multitude of groups, individuals of lower socioeconomic status prove likewise disadvantaged by the SAT. According to The Washington Post, “SAT scores are highly correlated with income.” No coincidence, the article states that families with an income higher than $200,000 a year scored almost 400 points better than families with an income lower than $20,000 because of SAT costs, academic support, and PSAT practice the most prevalently available to richer students.

Upfront, each SAT costs about $47.50 without an essay and $64.50 with the essay; for students whose families live in poverty, the cost is too high for students with a low disposable income, or money that can be spent after essential bills and taxes. In fact, for families living on the poverty line, making $25,465 a year and obtaining about $2,100 of disposable income each month, even with waivers that cover two SAT tests, the wealthier students are more likely to take more tests for higher compounded scores. To prepare, students also buy test prep books and enroll in tutoring courses that result in higher scores. In fact, while test preparation books cost on average $20, most online programs cost anywhere from $100 to $1400 and one-on-one tutoring costs anywhere from $40 to $200 per hour. Every opportunity to tutor for college boards’ standardized tests proves extremely expensive. 

Furthermore, according to a CBNC article, “students who live in wealthy school districts typically attend better-funded schools.” This means that wealthier students receive greater access to tutors, AP classes, and preparation for college; all of which are connected to higher SAT scores. A clear example, on average in private schools, where tuition is required, schools on average offer eleven AP courses; in public schools, eight. In a study conducted by the College Board, an average .605 correlation between AP test scores and the predicted PSAT scores was found. Meaning, students who have taken more AP courses statistically also secure the ability to perform well on the SAT.

A lack of PSAT’s, a clearly helpful resource, also puts students in a lower socioeconomic status at a clear disadvantage. Each $18 test (usually covered by wealthier schools) that can be taken three times as a high school student, serves as another costly resource necessary for higher scores. Clearly pointing out a stark difference, The Washington Post, mentions that “students who didn’t take a PSAT received a score of 1409 and students who took it twice scored 1,612.” The almost 200 point difference certainly reflects that schools which reserve the ability to pay for greater academic resources, do a better job at preparing students for the SAT and higher ranking scores.

Simply put, if a student’s family or school receives more money, they can spend more of it towards non-essential goods like academic testing and prep that foster higher SAT scores. Therefore, because affluent students earn higher scores, are admissions based on high test scores fair to students of lower socioeconomic status? Is it really testing academic abilities, or the amount of money one could have spent on tutoring and practice?

Going hand in hand with circumstances of individuals of lower socioeconomic status,  groups of different racial groups also face SAT score reductions. According to a ResearchGate research paper, “for White students, the effect of high school achievement suggests that for every unit increase in high school achievement (GPA) there is a 180-point increase on the total SAT scale. For Black [students], the increase is approximately only 138 points on the total SAT scale.” Analyzing the importance of high school achievement, the increase in predicted SAT scores were lower for Black students by almost 40 points for every GPA unit. The extensively predicted discrepancy accurately predicted lower SAT scores for Black students. For families earning less than $10,000 a year, Black students scored 96 points less for Math and 99 points less for Verbal when compared to their White counterparts. In families who made more than $100,000 a year, Black students received an average of 78 points less for Math and 62 points less for Verbal compared to their White counterparts.

Such inferior scores heavily relate with poverty discrimintation. According to the same research paper, “the differential effect for high school achievement,…suggests an effect of schooling where Black test-takers, especially those living in poverty, are likely attending poorer quality schools.” Furthermore, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that, “the relationship between SES (socioeconomic status), race and ethnicity is intimately intertwined”, because “research has shown that race and ethnicity in terms of stratification often determine a person’s socioeconomic status.” A lower socioeconomic status, heavily correlated to race and ethnicity, usually leads to poorer quality education. In fact, the APA found that African-Americans and Latinos were at a much higher disposition to attending high-poverty schools, where a lack of academic resources were prevalent, than Asain-Americans and Caucasions. Those high poverty schools, they found, “may deprive students of valuable resources” and leave talented students at a disadvantage for being “exposed to less rigorous curriculums.” Additionally, students of color might also be at a great disadvantage for learning from “teachers who expect less of them academically than they expect of similarly situated Caucasian students.” 

Since schools provide great opportunities and resources for higher test scores like PSATs, AP courses, and tutoring services, students and SAT scores from racial groups in lower grade schools suffer. In fact, CAP (Closing Advanced Coursework Equity Gaps for All Students), found that the “national data from the Civil Rights Data Collection show that students who are Black, Indigenous, and other non-Black people of color (BIPOC) are not enrolled in AP courses at rates comparable to their white and Asian peers and experience less success when they are.” The CAP study references that for every 1,000 students, 185 White students enroll in an AP course compared to 375 Asian students, 105 Black students, 156 Hispanic students, and 93 Native students. Overall, the data explicitly shows that White students enroll in more AP classes. Since AP enrollment and predicted SAT scores are heavily correlated, BIPOC students experience lower SAT rates due to AP enrollment and resources offered to their schools. 

 Additional to economic descrimination, the a Brookings article also attributes lower scores as a result  “of generations of exclusionary housing, education, and economic policy.” Certainly, the SAT fails to represent BIPOC students equally to their White counterparts. If White students typically score higher than BIPOC students, how is the test fair to different racial groups? Does the SAT really give every student an equal opportunity at post secondary education?

For its failure to accurately represent merit amongst different gender, socio-economic, and racial groups, the SAT achieves rather the opposite goal of leveling the college playing field to give every student an equal chance at admissions to schools. As a matter of fact, because the SAT favors wealthy, White males, it begs the question, how else can colleges represent students of different backgrounds? Can affirmative action or reviewing inflated grades reflect academic merit in higher level education? Most importantly, how will colleges keep admissions fair and truly represent the brilliant future of America?