Every year, hundreds of Lowell students take the SAT and ACT, hoping for scores sufficient enough to get them into their dream universities. Convinced that these tests are true markers of their academic abilities, students have partaken in standardized testing for the last 95 years. However, the SAT and ACT are not really a measure of one’s intelligence, but instead a reflection of inequalities within our society.
Due to the pandemic, and the ways in which it has impacted students’ ability to take the SAT and ACT, a large number of universities have temporarily become test-optional. The University of California system, meanwhile, has declared that they will be using a standardized-test-blind approach indefinitely. We believe that all schools should transition to permanent test-blind policies beyond the pandemic, on account of the tests’ deep-rooted flaws and racist history. Lowell students should not see this transition as a disadvantage in the application process, but rather as a much-needed step towards equality when it comes to our education.
Proponents of using college-entry exams argue that universities need a standardized gauge upon which to measure students’ academic capabilities. As students must take the tests under equal and regulated conditions, the scores supposedly provide colleges with a common data point. Without standardized tests, universities would rely heavily on GPA, which varies between school district and state. However, these tests are not the fair assessment they claim to be, and any benefits they offer are outweighed by the exams’ proven ineffectiveness.
The SAT and ACT fail to fulfill their intended purpose of predicting students’ educational success in college. In fact, research has shown that a student’s GPA is a more reliable metric in determining higher education performance than test scores. Therefore, college admissions should emphasize GPA, as this measure more accurately predicts a student’s ability to succeed in a college environment.
The inefficiency of these tests in predicting success is not the only flaw inherent in the process; the SAT and ACT tests promote socio-economic inequity in college admissions. People with the financial means to hire tutors or take test-prep courses can boost their scores and get ahead of other students who do not have the wherewithal to do so. Costs for SAT tutoring averages $70 an hour, a price well beyond the reach of many families. This creates perpetual score disparities, as data shows that 13 hours of SAT tutoring can increase a test taker’s score by 30 points. On average, students who have tutors spend anywhere from 10 to 40 hours being taught test taking strategies, which translates into an unfair advantage. This begs the question as to whether these standardized tests have evolved into tests of wealth rather than tests of intelligence.
With the decrease in the availability of test centers during the pandemic, more inequalities have arisen as students have been left scrambling to find a testing location with open seats. San Francisco is lacking in testing locations, so Lowell students have turned to long-distance travel, overnight stays, and sometimes even airline tickets to destinations such as Los Angeles or Reno. Countless students could not take the SAT because their families did not have the funds or financial flexibility to pay for the added expenses. These financial hardships have been exacerbated by the pandemic, with the loss of jobs and decreased household incomes. Students of higher socioeconomic class who can afford these expenses around testing are insulated from this problem, and are therefore given an advantage in the admissions process.
Additionally, the racist history of the SAT should not be ignored. The SAT originates from the Alpha Test, created by Carl Brigham in the 1920s, which claimed that the intelligence of Americans was decreasing due to mixing between races. Today’s continued use of the SAT in the college admissions process upholds Brigham’s history of oppression and racism towards people of color.
The SAT’s selection process for test questions has been shown to discriminate against the Black community. When Black students receive higher scores than White students on experimental questions, these questions are removed from the official test as they contradict the SAT’s traditional bell curve. This has contributed to Black students representing a mere 1 percent of students who score above 700 on the SAT’s math section. As a result of the racist strategies used in the SAT’s formulation, Black students receive lower scores which hinders their ability to get into highly selective colleges. Eliminating college entrance exams would decrease the amount of discrimination Black students are subjected to in the admissions process.
The time has come for colleges to no longer place value on the SAT and ACT, and neither should Lowell students. Lowell’s academically focused and competitive culture has convinced us that the SAT is essential to our applications and a key determinant of our futures. This is completely untrue. Evaluating one’s intelligence using standardized testing is both outdated and biased. Our institutions of higher education should consider individuals in terms of their achievements, strength of character, and passions to identify those who will thrive beyond high school, not rely on biased tests that yield unreliable results. We hope Lowell students consider these inequities before deciding to take the SAT or ACT, and we demand that all colleges and universities move towards permanent test-blind policies.