General Education

Socioeconomic Inequality And The SAT

Socioeconomic Inequality And The SAT
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Malavika Kannan profile
Malavika Kannan August 20, 2019

It’s unfortunate but unsurprising that scoring well on the SAT can come with a price tag.  The dreaded SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), widely regarded as an entrance ticket to scholarships

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It’s unfortunate but unsurprising that scoring well on the SAT can come with a price tag.

The dreaded SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), widely regarded as an entrance ticket to scholarships and selective universities, tests students’ college readiness by assessing them in math, reading, and writing. It demonstrates score gaps that reflect socioeconomic inequalities in America. This might be because wealthier students are more likely to be able to afford workbooks, tutors and prep courses, which translates to higher test scores.

Thus, achievement gaps on the SAT provide a sobering snapshot into the large racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist across generations of Americans, despite recent efforts to level the playing field. Gaps in SAT scores are a symptom of underlying problems that go back decades.

The implications of socioeconomic inequality can arise early in a student’s educational career and create an enduring obstacle to success. Opportunities to succeed can be increased by access to high-quality preschool, supportive teachers and counselors, involved parents with the resources to help at home -- and an emphasis on SAT preparation. At the same time, success is limited when students don’t take the SAT or don’t prepare, either because of the low expectations of their community or because they are not aware of its importance.

Furthermore, the cost of registering for the SAT may be a burden; students are generally expected to register for and pay for the tests online on their own, as well as transport themselves to a testing center on a weekend. While fee waivers have been made available to eligible students, many are not aware of this opportunity

Over the past years, changes have been made to make the SAT more accessible to all. For example, the test was reshaped to focus less on obscure vocabulary and more on real-world reading comprehension in order to shine light on the talents of disadvantaged groups. More critically, CollegeBoard, who administers the SAT, teamed up with the educational organization Khan Academy to provide online study resources, free of charge to all.

It’s true that the SAT remains a flawed indicator of success-- one has to look no further than reports of bias within test questions-- and that inequality is a major driver of performance gaps and lagging college admissions. Regardless, the SAT is still the gateway to higher education, and it is imperative that all students have the equal opportunity to succeed. The path has been paved; all that remains is to encourage students to take it.

In many schools, this means offering and requiring students to take a preliminary SAT, or PSAT -- an abridged version of the SAT that not only leads to higher SAT scores, but opens the door to scholarship opportunities, most notably National Merit. It also means making students aware of fee waivers they may be eligible for. Lastly -- and this may be the hardest part -- it requires schools to cultivate environments of success, where students are universally pushed to take the SAT seriously and prepare hard in order to succeed.