Standardized tests illustration

(Jade McIntyre / Daily Titan)

The SAT and ACT standardized testing is unfair for low-income and first-generation students whose families can’t provide aid for higher education due to unawareness or financial insecurity.

For example, Krystal Raynes is a Filipina first-generation college student whose plans for higher education were threatened because she didn’t have the resources to prepare for the two mandatory college entrance exams, the SAT and ACT.

“I got a pretty average SAT score,” Raynes said. “It was so disheartening, because I was like, ‘I studied, and I’m almost a straight A student.’ It felt like all of my hard work I did in high school, all extracurriculars were meaningless because it all depended on this SAT score.” 

Today, Raynes is serving as the 2020-22 student trustee for the California State University system. She is currently studying at CSU Bakersfield, majoring in computer science and business. After graduation, Raynes wants to attend Sacramento State to pursue a masters in public policy. 

Standardized testing should slowly transition away from the college application process because a low test score for disadvantaged students becomes a barrier that limits access to higher education. 

Raynes said that although she didn’t live in a low-income household, she still felt disadvantaged as a first-generation student. Raynes lacked the aid and resources that wealthy students usually had access to, such as private tutors and learning programs for standardized testing. 

Roughly 2 million students in the United States take the SAT every year. The bar is set high as high school seniors strive to be a shining star, hoping to stand out among millions of applicants applying for the same competitive colleges. Students are competing with GPAs, extracurriculars, Advanced Placement exam scores and the signifier of success —  the ACT and SAT. 

The lowest average SAT scores come from students whose families make less than $20,000 in household income, compared to the highest averages that come from students whose families make more than $200,000, according to a 2015 analysis from Inside Higher Education. 

Cal State Fullerton has the largest enrollment among colleges in Orange County, with 40.8% of its student population being low income. On an even larger scale, half of the CSU student population is also low income, according to a 2018 issue brief from the California Homeless Youth Project. So it is unfair for such a vast group of students to face these barriers, put in front of them by the system. 

Along with most college and university admissions, the SAT and ACT have been used consistently to sort through its eligible applicants. With the recent 2019 admission scandal and the COVID-19 pandemic, critics again question whether higher education should continue to use standardized testing as part of the admission process. 

CSUs have already temporarily suspended the standardized testing requirement due to the pandemic. With that in mind, it is in the CSU system’s best interest to begin transitioning away from standardized testing in the next school year to ensure their steady flow of admissions. 

It’s even more detrimental for the CSU system considering the University of California, the largest and best-known higher education system in America, decided in May 2020 that they will stop the SAT and ACT requirement for admission, according to the New York Times. 

One of the main reasons why it’s difficult for low-income students to perform well on these standardized tests is the unethical costs.  

Taking one SAT costs $52 and with the optional essay, it costs $68. Although the College Board provides fee waivers for low-income students it only subsidizes two attempts. 

Even if low-income students are eligible to receive two free SATs, the wealth difference among students still puts them at a disadvantage.

It’s no secret that wealthier families can spend the extra money. However, sometimes that extra money is used to cheat the system rather than allowing all students a fair chance at the opportunity of higher education. 

In a recent 2019 college admissions scandal, Igor Dvorskiy, a college exam proctor, accepted bribes from wealthy parents to allow cheating and ensure their students’ success for the SAT and ACT. According to NBC News, $10,000 per student was given to the exam proctor to let them cheat on these standardized tests — prosecutors said that Dvorskiy had accepted nearly $200,000 in bribes. 

But even with countless college admission scandals, institutions in higher education continue to use this as a metric unit for admitting students into their schools. 

If CSU were to transition away from standardized testing, the main concern is how to evaluate student applications.

The best alternative is to do a holistic assessment of high school students. This includes considering their GPAs and other factors such as AP classes, extracurriculars and recommendation letters which make a significant impact on deciding which students will be successful in college, according to ThoughtCo, a platform specializing in content about education. 

In high school, students who take AP courses are taught at a college level. Students who participate in these classes are more likely to succeed in college with higher GPA’s, according to a 2011 analysis from Western Michigan University. 

A student’s access to higher education shouldn’t be riddled with expenses on top of tuition. 

Students should not be boxed into the College Board’s irrational expectation that anyone can attain perfect scores. Student academic ability should be judged by their persistence and achievement, not by a test score that no one will care about after a few months.

Asst. Opinion Editor F20; Reporter & Asst. Multimedia Editor S21

(1) comment


Ms. Garcia,

One of your two main arguments advocating a move away from the SAT relates to scandals in which people have cheated by paying their way to a high SAT score. However, in any organized system, be it a standardized test administration, a college application process, a job application cycle, cheating will exist by a particularly unethical sliver of the population. Should we throw away every organized system we have for this reason?

Your second argument relates to score bias against lower income students who do not have the money to afford resources such as tutors in order to perform better. This is a problem but the exact same biases exist in regards to school GPAs. Easily googled data will show that low income students will have lower GPAs, presumably, again, due to a lack of parental support, or financial means on the part of the parent. What this shows is that in attacking the SAT, we are attacking a symptom of a much deeper problem - that economically disadvantaged children are left behind in nearly all aspects of educational life and this manifests itself in any metric you can find - the SATjust happens to be the hot topic to point a finger at.

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