Evan Schwartz: Do we still need the SAT?

Flawed, biased, outdated and racist. The SAT has been called a lot of things, but now its overall merit is being called into question by both college admission boards and students.

The Princeton University Office of Population Research recently conducted a study on the overall impact of the SAT on admissions. The results were somewhat startling – if colleges were to drop the SAT, minority admissions into universities would jump as much as 5 percent.

Simply put, students from a lower socioeconomic background statistically do worse on the SAT than other students, and the results of this study confirm that this trend is keeping minorities out of universities. In a way, minority students are at a competitive disadvantage before the test even begins and this clearly affects their admittance into school.

Rich, white children are more likely to attend better schools, which prepares them better for a test that measures the amount one has learned in high school. Rich kids can also afford private tutoring aimed at defeating a test that can be easily predicted.

The College Board has made some recent efforts to level the playing field, from expanding the test to changing the names of hypothetical characters in word problems. But the fact still remains that the SAT is unfair for a certain section of test takers.

For the less privileged students of America, the SAT can be a daunting task. Without the money for private school or private tutoring, lower-class students are applying to college at a serious disadvantage. Rather than acting as an indicator of ability, a high SAT score is an economic status symbol. The College Board is a private company designed to make a profit on the test it administers.

Is it unfair to base so much of the admissions process on a test that discriminates with every question? Not entirely.

Eliminating the inclusion of the SAT in the admissions process would place a heavy emphasis on grade point averages and essays. Many kids come out of high school with less than stellar GPAs, but high SAT scores can indicate the type of intelligence and ability necessary to succeed in college. The SAT still remains one of the best indicators of freshman year success for a student, even according to the Office of Population Research’s study.

SAT preparation has also become its own cottage industry. SAT tutoring creates thousands of jobs based around one event that takes place on a Saturday morning – sort of like rabbinical school.

So what is the answer? The SAT robs colleges of qualified candidates and the precious diversity moniker. The SAT may have been a valuable tool for college admissions when the applicant pool was more homogeneous, but colleges must begin to understand they are using an outdated evaluation system.

Phasing out the SAT can help level the playing field for all applicants. Unless the College Board can remold the exam into one that can truly gauge college success instead of income, colleges should put less emphasis on scores during the application process. Removing scores altogether may preclude a school from being nationally ranked, but for a school like GW, it may be a bold move that increases national attention and attracts a more diverse applicant pool. Many colleges choose to ignore the writing portion of the test already and Sarah Lawrence College has stopped accepting SAT scores altogether. The writing may be on the wall for the SAT as the hallmark of aptitude tests.

The College Board has a monopoly on standardized testing; therefore the pressure to change has to come from colleges themselves. Too much is at stake to put into a number out of 2400 – aren’t applicants more than just a score?

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

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