The SAT: A Biased Measure of Privilege, Not Knowledge

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Prepping for the test. Do you buy it?

Last year, College Board claimed over $1 billion in assets, despite its non-profit status. Non-profit organizations are designed to focus on the public good rather than profit-making, yet College Board’s policies seem to be self-serving. The company manages to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars each year by charging students over $50 to complete a mandatory exam that says virtually nothing about their intelligence. While the SAT was originally intended to be a standard and fair indicator of a student’s knowledge, it appears to now show bias against students, which contradicts its mission of being an equal measure of scholastic ability. 

Employees of College Board argue that the SAT benefits students in the sense that it gives universities more information about them when deciding upon their admission. Kevin Sweeney, the vice president for psychometrics research at the College Board, stated that “The message here is that using two is better than one”. He argues that the SAT provides another opportunity for students to show their academic skill, therefore making them more desirable to colleges. I understand where he comes from; the more proof a student has of their abilities, the better a chance they have at being admitted into schools. However, looking at a study conducted by College Board, the information gathered in regards to highlighting the benefits of the test seems to contradict the same ideas that Sweeney preaches.

In 2010, College Board conducted a study where they put 150,000 high school students into three categories: those who had a comparatively higher GPA than SAT score, those with a higher overall SAT and a final group of students who didn’t particularly excel in one over the other. From there, they surveyed their SAT scores compared to their household income and race, and the results are astounding. The study proved that those who performed higher on the SAT were mostly students who had a parental income of $100,000 or more (the highest income range), while those who had better GPAs were in a lower income bracket of $70,000-100,000. While it should be noted that those of color, primarily blacks and Hispanics, produced very low scores on both, almost double as many students of color had a higher GPA compared to their SAT. This can be attributed to the fact that minorities claim over 58 percent of people with low income, giving them less money to spend on preparation for the SAT.

People who can’t afford a good score tend to skew the results by producing lower scores, while those with extensive help and preparation can go on to receive a top score, which only furthers the divide. Those with a strong financial backbone are able to do some pretty outrageous things to inflate their score. The primary one is tutoring. The SAT tutoring business is booming and many of the top instructors charge hefty prices to teach the methodology of taking the test. The top tutor in our area, Boulder Test Prep, starts charging at $130 per hour. Interestingly enough, they only charge $95 for traditional academic tutoring. This entails that it is much harder to get help on studying for the SAT than it is for attaining better grades. 

This brings to light another issue of tutoring: the test is like a game. If tutors charge so much, it implies that the SAT is extremely study-based, while your GPA is a cumulative review of your knowledge. When taking the SAT for the first time with no prior help, many of the problems I saw were never taught to me or applicable at any other time up until that point. I later reached out for professional help where they taught me not necessarily how to approach specific problems, but shortcuts and tricks for how to beat the test as a whole. I never would have known any of this if my family had not agreed to pay for help in hopes that I would succeed. So contrary to Sweeney’s statements, the SAT is not proving to provide students with an extra measurement of their achievement. It merely shows whether or not you can pay the price and study for a test. If you do want to attain this, you’ll have to pay a high price to learn the tips and tricks, leaving those without money behind.  

So, what does this say? It shows that minorities are far less likely to outperform those who are white and privileged on a test that is heavily weighed during college admissions and can cost up to $94 to take. The SAT only spreads the gap between those with inherent advantages and those without. And yes, there are cases in which minorities will outperform those with a predominant lead, but the overwhelming statistics show that this isn’t typically the case. Only a small percentage of anomalies within less privileged groups find assistance through their test scores. The test routinely shows that the benefits given are to those that can pay to succeed. This a system based on wealth, not skill.