The University of California is quickly approaching a crossroad, and the path it takes will most likely shape the college admissions scene for the rest of the country. An activist group is trying to force the U of C to discontinue using standardized test scores as part of its admissions process by threatening the entire system with a lawsuit, claiming that the SAT test discriminates against minorities.
Originally, SAT was an acronym for “Scholastic Aptitude Test” and intended to measure a student’s natural skills. Today, the test has evolved so far from its roots that it is known simply as the SAT and is no longer an abbreviation of a longer name. Rather than gauging inherent aptitude, the questions are designed to measure critical thinking and analytical abilities.
Despite the automated objectivity of the multiple-choice scoring system, critics denounce the SAT because its founder, Carl Brigham, was a racist. They say bias unfairly persists in the modern version of the test. Some say it is derived from an IQ test, which unfairly favors test-takers from more affluent backgrounds. Others say it is similar to tests once used to prevent certain ethnic groups from entering the United States.
But with public education requirements varying by state with little federal oversight, a uniform national benchmark is needed to objectively evaluate incoming college students. SAT scores allow students from all states to compete for spots in distant universities. Admittance allows them to expand their worldview, both domestically and abroad. In addition to being recognized and accepted by American colleges and universities, SAT scores are universally accepted. Taking this test allows a student the option of studying overseas.
Despite the global use of standardized tests, advocates of dropping the SAT requirement say that other skills, such as grit and determination, are more accurate measures of success during and after college. But, lowering the entrance bar for college freshmen teaches them that if the rules are too hard, they don’t have to follow them. This is poor preparation for life after formal education.
Taking and passing standardized tests continue to be an important skill after a student enters the workforce. The DMV depends on standardized tests to ensure drivers know enough rules to keep themselves and others safe on the roadways. Many online job applications include fill-in-the-bubble sections, and you can bet the hiring manager won’t consider an applicant who opted out. Rigorous multiple-question tests are used to issue licenses to commercial drivers, building contractors, lawyers, doctors, and countless other skilled professionals. Students need to learn test-taking skills, including anxiety management if applicable, at an early age.
Students can – and should – properly prepare for the SAT and its competitor, the ACT. Not all students have the resources or parental support to play on a sports team, hold a part-time job, volunteer, or take music lessons. But, any student can study and ace a standardized test. Study guides can help students to overcome any real or perceived bias that is built into the questions. Study guides and practice tests are available in the reference section of public libraries, so financial need is not a hindrance.
Unless you’re Felicity Huffman, having your kid score well on the SAT won’t cost you $15,000 and 11 days in jail. The current fee for taking the SAT exam with the essay portion is $64.50. This fee is waived for students whose families’ incomes fall below federal poverty levels.
A uniform, nationwide evaluation is an important part of a college admissions application in order to compare applicants from all schools and backgrounds. Dropping the SAT requirement won’t make the application system more fair. It would only make it less stringent, weaken students’ ability to undergo rigorous evaluation, and remove the only objectively scored aspect of the college admissions process.