GraceNotes: Fair game for SAT and ACT


It’s an age-old debate: should the SAT and ACT be a part of the college admissions process? Many have supported and opposed the highly controversial tests, and some selective colleges have even removed them from their admissions processes. However, it may be too early to issue an ultimatum on the fate of standardized testing. 

Earlier this month, the University of California system released data showing that enrollment of students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged may actually be improved by factoring in standardized testing. This is because admissions officers evaluate the scores based on the applicants’ backgrounds.

Opponents of standardized testing often cite the unfair advantages and opportunities, such as practicing at testing prep centers, that more affluent students have. However, the newly released data shows that this is not true—at least in a public school system. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, students’ scores are compared to others at the same high school to ensure that even if a student did not have access to many resources, their efforts would still be recognized. It is true that this adds a layer of variability to a “standardized” score, but it addresses the main problem with the SAT and ACT that opponents call out. 

And for schools in the UC system that already place a heavy emphasis on GPA, there is a need for the SAT or ACT in order to compare applicants using a score with fewer variables than GPA. Grades at one school could mean something completely different at another school. At private high schools, there might even be grade inflation, which gives an unfair advantage to more affluent students. Even in the same school, teachers have different standards and grading rubrics, each reflecting a student’s academic proficiency differently.

Although standardized testing is just one test that an applicant is evaluated on, at least the SAT and ACT provide a basis of comparison for applicants across the nation, unlike GPA. In addition, there are free resources available online, such as Khan Academy, that students can take advantage of. 

Of course, it’s not that only standardized tests should be considered for admission; a score from a test shouldn’t determine whether a student is accepted in a school. The rigor of courses, extracurricular activities, personal essays and letters of recommendation provide a more complete picture of the applicant and show who the student is as a person

Standardized testing is not perfect—no matter what, there will always be a few affluent applicants who will find a way to gain an advantage. However, comparing students’ standardized test scores in the context of their socioeconomic statuses seems to be a better indicator of their prospects for success than just comparing grades.