The Racist and Elitist Issues with the SAT

by Alexis Booker ‘23 and Perri Williams ‘23

The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) is a standardized test distributed by the College Board, a provider of tests and curriculum that shape the U.S. education system. The origins of the SAT began in 1926 and first was used by the U.S. Army to test how intelligent recruits were. Although reasonable on the surface, the deeper intention behind it was to create a biased test that could separate the influx of immigrants coming in at the time of World War I when soldiers were most needed. The test was constructed to favor white recruits by assuming English fluency and knowledge of American culture. It was later adopted by universities for similar purposes and over time and became a standard ingrained into the education system, according to  John Rosales and Tim Walker of the National Education Association.

Almost every high school student today views the SAT (or the competitor ACT) as a crucial aspect of their college applications. This is due to the fact that prior to COVID-19, almost every college and university requires the test results in an effort to observe how ‘college ready’ a student is to ensure that they accept the people of the highest skill level. Although many colleges and universities have gone test-optional during the pandemic,, there are still unstated pressures on submitting a good score anyway. 

For example, the University of Michigan stated clearly that they would be test optional, although taking a closer look, their policy says otherwise. “Test scores are required (SAT I or ACT),” as stated within the first bullet point of the full policy. This is extremely contradictory from their more flexible approach they have maintained a public stance on. It goes on to say that to be considered outside of not sending the SAT or ACT, other forms of standardized testing are highly recommended. These are the kinds of confusing and unfair rules that have been made behind closed doors, defeating the entire purpose of claiming flexibility in the first place.

The final score helps colleges dictate how much of a priority the test taker’s overall application is. Another motive for continuously enforcing the test is profit. Each test administered and any tutoring provided by the College Board  generates money to continuously fund the company.

Despite the push to take the SAT, the test itself is not is not a true measure of intelligence. All the value on the test derives from the education system placing unnecessary emphasis on it. From  its racist roots, the test continues to be discriminatory. When it comes to scores on the SAT, African American students have the lowest average score out of all races. The benchmark for college readiness in reading is 480 and the benchmark for math is 510. According to the SAT only 43 percent of black students meet the college readiness mark for reading and writing while only 21 percent meet the mark for math. This is a huge gap compared to the readiness of white students, 79 percent of whom meet the college readiness benchmark for reading and writing and 59 percent who meet the mark for math. For black students results like this make getting into college difficult while also doing numbers to students’ self esteem. 

According to the Census, Blacks and Hispanics, reached historic lows in their poverty rates in 2019. The poverty rate for Blacks was 18.8 percent; for Hispanics, it was 15.7 percent. This means Black students especially tend to be lower income, which can affect  their SAT results astronomically due to the overload of disproportionate factors like racism and discrimination. Within the frame of racism, exists a deeper systemic land that creates a wealth gap that places black students and white students on the opposite sides of the class spectrum. Wealthier students consistently score higher than lower income students not because of levels of intelligence, but levels of practice. Studies have shown after prep the average SAT improvement is around 60 to 70 points or in the most successful cases, 150 to 300. Not only do students and their parents have to pay to study for the test, but they also have to pay to take the test. It costs $52 without the optional essay and $68 with it. It is also recommended that students take the test more than once. One group can afford to dedicate time to studying as well as pay for services to learn strategies. The other cannot, as well as has to do things such as work to help pay for their families expenses or take care of younger siblings. This disparity shows that the SAT is not a true measure of ability, but of income level.

Today there are plenty of practice books and online resources that the College Board provides; however, they do not have the same quality as paid services. Families who can afford it usually pay for their child to have a private tutor or prep classes. The price of private tutoring ranges from about $40 to $100 per hour. This allows these higher income students to review exactly what they need help with for the test. Usually the tutor will have the student take a practice test or look at their PSAT results and create a personalized study plan for that specific student. In addition, prep classes (although more affordable) create a study environment specific to the SAT. Either way, families have to pay for something, and students who can pay the most have the best look at success. 

Why should students have to pay for a test that is necessary to get into college? Apparently, colleges and universities in California began asking the same question in 2020 when the pandemic directly affected students’ ability to take the SAT. In May of 2020 the University of California regents voted to suspend the SAT through 2024 and eliminate the requirement by 2025. The idea was that this move would level the playing field for students. This is a monumental step in itself, but even more so knowing that they were the first university to actually implement the test into their college application requirements. They now have paved the way for the future, with many other schools in California such as University of San Diego also deciding to suspend the test. Let’s hope that colleges and universities  all across the country come around to the same decision–sooner than later. 

If the test is deemed not necessary then why is there still this effort to keep it around? Recently, Harvard University has stopped this effort as well, and began taking steps to abolish the SAT because they recognize it is not a true measure of college readiness or intelligence. It is a measure of one’s socioeconomic status if anything. Their step now sets the precedent of schools all across the country to reconsider their applicant qualifications. The significant influence of Harvard combined with COVID and University of California now brings the progress vulnerable American students have needed for so long. 

Systemic racism in combination with elitism has been upheld for far too long. The College Board preys on the unknowingly complacent test takers who’ve only been instilled to believe one test determines a fundamental part of their academic future. At the end of the day the college board is getting paid while students take the test, so are their intentions really in students’ best interest? The statistics say no, communities should make an extra effort to get rid of the test on a smaller scale.