Leveling the Educational Playing Field Goes Way Beyond That
Things are changing so fast these days that it is hard to plan beyond the next hour. Schools have had to implement distance learning programs almost overnight. Whether or not students will be back in the classroom in the fall and what those classrooms will look like is anyone’s guess. These uncertain times have certainly provided an opportunity for new circumstances. One of these is the question, should the SAT and the ACT be eliminated from the admission requirements at some colleges.
There has been a movement toward the elimination of the SAT and the ACT for the last few years. Some colleges took this step well before the CoVid-19 pandemic. The school of thought is that these tests are “wealth biased.” That is more than just the “Varsity Blues” scandal where wealthy parents paid proctors and admissions directors to doctor test scores and other application materials. The idea that the SAT and the ACT should be eliminated because they are “wealth biased” also stems from the fact that students whose parents have more money have access to tutors to help them prepare for these tests. It is certainly true that students whose parents have the means to hire tutors, pay for extra classes or purchase online programs get a leg up. Of course, those same students in all likelihood live in better school districts and have access to tutors should they have trouble with a particular class at school, are able to participate in more extra curricular activities, and have opportunities for more varied life experiences . Eliminating these tests do not eliminate the advantage of coming from a family with means.
When considering whether the SAT and the ACT should be eliminated, remember they are standardized tests. This means they go through rigorous testing to be certain that questions are clear, objective and unbiased. When you take a test in a classroom, you are subject to the strengths and weaknesses of that particular teacher. What you learn is what your teacher covered in class. How your teacher chooses to evaluate student performance to assign a grade is largely a subjective process. Do they assign and grade a lot of homework? How many tests do they give in a grading period? Can you retake a test you did poorly on? Does the teacher give extra credit? While schools have tried to develop a specific criteria for grades by assigning what percentage of the grade will be determined by tests and exams, even this can be impacted dramatically by whether your teacher provides a study guide, offers review sessions and gives partial credit for answers. People are individuals. Grades are assigned by people. Grades are one person’s assessment of how much of the material you have mastered.
We can go another level out. Schools have different curricula. Some schools offer a wide variety of advanced and AP classes. Others focus more on the basic courses. If a student goes to a more challenging school, their GPA may be lower but their knowledge may be greater. How are admissions counselors supposed to keep up with the merits of every high school?
Let’s not forget the admission counselors at the colleges. Do they have schools they view more favorably than others? What is that viewpoint based on? Faculties change. Students matriculate. Neighborhoods go through periods of prosperity and decline. Schools go through similar processes. The high school your parents or even your older brother or sister went to may not have the same level of academic strength when it is time for you to attend.
Testing has been receiving a lot of criticism for a long time. The perception is that our students spend so much time testing they can’t learn. But I would like to stop and consider for a moment that standardized testing is the ONLY time students are ALL given the same questions, in the same environment, to be answered in the same amount of time. I am not arguing that some students have been bettered prepared for the test than others. Of course they have. I am saying at least the task is uniform. To offer each student an equal education requires a lot more than eliminating a standardized test. It would require providing equal access to equivalent resources from kindergarten through senior year to ALL students, a total restructuring of the system. While that may be a laudable goal, it is also a massive undertaking. For now, we can at least be assured that this one measure will be consistent for all who take it. We can use that data to help us evaluate our system as well as our students.