Updated: Sep 18

By Niva Cohen

Opinion Editor

In the face of growing calls for equitable education, many colleges and universities have stopped requiring Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores. The SAT, a quintessential component of the American college application process for decades, is now facing scrutiny. Although many of these concerns are valid and beg reform, the SAT is a valuable -- and even necessary -- assessment tool.

Standardized testing is so useful simply because it is standardized. Other academic measures, like GPAs, vary from high school to high school and are not a reliable means of comparing applicants. Many students complain that grades on papers and tests are arbitrary. The SAT allows them to prove themselves on an objective and universal scale. Standardization becomes especially important with international students pursuing a U.S. undergraduate education. They have had vastly different curricula from American students, but learning what will be on the SAT ensures they will share a similar starting point with their U.S. counterparts. Without such a test, international students could enroll at a school for which they were unprepared; if they didn’t have the appropriate foundation, they might fall behind. This added pressure would make an already jarring culture-shock almost unbearable.

Like all other parts of a college application, SAT scores give students yet another opportunity to set themselves apart. Stripping away any of these components would make it harder to compensate for weaknesses in other areas. What is unique to the SAT is that, given the proper practice resources, most students can substantially raise their scores. No one can boost grades from years past and, when it comes to the personal essay, writing is a craft that takes years to hone. Therefore, standardized testing is the aspect of the application over which students have the most control. Of course, some people do not test well (regardless of preparation), but they often have other talents. If these students are allowed the chance to show off their strengths, high-achieving test-takers should be, too.

The elephant in the room is the SAT’s inherent inequality, which has become a hot topic. Everyone on a given test day gets the same SAT. It is a complete meritocracy. What complicates things is that not everyone walks into the room with the same resources or backgrounds. Some do not have the money -- or time -- to study sufficiently or retake the test, putting them at a disadvantage. Many do not get the tutoring that more privileged students receive. With that said, there are ways to remedy this problem without discarding the SAT altogether. Waiving testing fees is one practice that the College Board has adopted already, but that does not address a lack of preparation among lower-income students. If the SAT is to become a fair way of measuring aptitude, there is a lot of work to do.

To address the socio-economic unfairness of the SAT, our society must work to improve inner-city schools, giving them more money and more programs so that their enrollees can succeed. Instead of scrapping a test because some don’t have the resources to do well, the U.S. should make sure everyone has the resources. If funds were distributed equally -- or more equally -- among school districts, those that are now struggling could afford SAT preparation and college counseling for their students. In general, the goal is not to get underprivileged, low-achieving students into Stuyvesant (the esteemed New York City magnet school); the goal is to make every New York public school into its own Stuyvesant. The problem is not the SAT. It runs much deeper.

Choosing to do away with the SAT is treating a symptom when we could treat the underlying condition: an unequal society. What stands in the way of low-income students is not a daunting test that lasts three hours, but an education system that has failed them their entire lives. Standardized testing only reflects pre-existing issues. The SAT is in dire need of some self-improvement, just like our country. But just like our country, there are still reasons to sing its praises.


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