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It’s Time to Abolish the SAT

It’s time to stop pushing for test-optional admissions policies, writes Christopher Rim. Instead, we should abandon the test and the College Board should eliminate it.

Christopher Rim | Monday November 8, 2021

Earlier this year, the College Board announced the cancellation of the SAT Subject Tests. The news was welcomed by educators and pundits who, for years, have criticized the tests as unfair both to low-income students and to those from communities of color and as ineffective predictors of students’ success in college.

Yet, obscured by all the applause is the fact that the SAT I tests — the familiar three-plus-hour multiple-choice exam used to measure reading, writing and math comprehension — haven’t gone anywhere. That means that the College Board, supposedly a nonprofit, mission-driven organization, will continue to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in myriad SAT fees. Consider that more than 2.19 million students took the tests in 2020 — and that was during a pandemic. At $55 per pre-registration fee, that is quite a hefty intake of funds. And it doesn’t include late registratichron fees, score reporting fees, rush reporting fees and the fees collected from students who take the tests three or four times.

As greedy as this makes the College Board, the real problem lies elsewhere. It is the greediness of the colleges and universities that profess that the SATs don’t matter. They claim they are “test-optional” institutions, that they don’t even require students to submit their scores anymore.

Such assurances are not merely empty words — they are outright lies. First, of the nation’s 2,330 bachelor’s degree-granting schools, only about half do not currently require SAT or ACT scores to be submitted for admission. And just because the others don’t require them does not mean they don’t want to see them. In fact, other than the University of California schools and a handful of others, every institution is still accepting SAT scores.

It’s easy to explain why this is so; not only do colleges and universities use — actually, misuse — the scores as an indicator of how students will perform in their classrooms, but their U.S. News & World Report rankings are still based in some measure on their applicants’ average SAT or ACT scores.

So if the College Board is continuing to fill its coffers and colleges and universities are continuing to tie scores to their admissions decisions, the only losers are the students themselves. They are being held hostage, seemingly indoctrinated from an early age with the belief that to get into elite institutions they need perfect, or close to perfect, scores.

It’s time to set them free. It’s time to end what is more than a failed century-old experiment to determine who supposedly has the intelligence to go to college. It’s time to stop requiring SAT or ACT scores for high school graduation, as half of the states still do. It’s time to totally abolish all forms of the SATs.

Instead, it’s time for colleges and universities to stop treating the admissions process as another form of Moneyball, through which they rely far too much on data analytics to build their student bodies. It’s time they look up from their iPads and computer screens and look at their prospective students for who they are as people. Every student is unique, with distinct experiences, ideas and perspectives that can contribute to the social, cultural, physical and intellectual zeitgeist of a specific campus.

I know this firsthand. In high school, I was told by my guidance counselors I wasn’t Yale University material because I didn’t have the elusive perfect SAT score. But I was not deterred. I focused my application on what I was genuinely passionate about — in high school, I started a nonprofit organization after the death by suicide of a family friend to help educate students on bystander intervention and embed social-emotional learning in the classroom. In doing so, I became the only student out of my graduating class to be admitted to that Ivy League institution.

At the end of the day, there are far more effective measures of how a student will perform in college than the SAT or the ACT. These tests were originally designed to be aptitude or achievement tests, to demonstrate either how you will perform academically in a rigorous environment, or to show how much you’ve learned. However, there is a clear link between household income and test performance. If you practice enough and have the right resources, you will see your score rise. Test prep and tutoring is a multibillion-dollar industry; those who can afford such resources will generally outperform those who do not.

If colleges truly wished to level the playing field and provide opportunities for students who previously could have never entered their gates, then they would simply go totally test blind, not test optional. In fact, if colleges are really committed to building a well-rounded class and their goal is to predict how you will fit in their incoming class, then SAT scores will be what they should be — meaningless pieces of paper for the recycling bin.

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Originally published in Inside Higher Ed on November 8, 2021

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