The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT) are disturbingly evil. They’re statistically invalid tests that favor wealthy students, and they’ve been around for far too long. The standardized tests don’t measure a student’s abilities, they measure their socioeconomic background. Brandeis is currently test-optional, but I believe that Brandeis should go test-blind and not accept standardized test scores at all.
For context, the SAT is a three-hour test composed of four sections (reading, writing, math with a calculator, math without a calculator) and an optional essay. Scores on the SAT range from 400 to 1600. The ACT is also a three-hour test composed of four sections (English, math, reading and science) and an optional essay. Scores on the ACT range from 1 to 36. Both tests have fees associated with them, although these can be waived. The national average SAT score was 1051 and the national average ACT score was 20.6 in 2020.
The SAT, administered by the College Board, has been used as a tool for racial segregation since its creation. Its inventor, Carl Brigham, once wrote that “American education is declining ‘and will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial mixture becomes more and more extensive’”. Moving past that touch of malice, Brigham’s standardized test has continued to be a tool of racial segregation today. In a 2018 study, the College Board found that Black students scored 177 points lower than white students on average. The biggest gap was in the math section, where Black and Hispanic students scored nearly 100 points lower on the math section than white students on average.
The ACT, administered by ACT Inc., was developed soon after the SAT as a competitor and it also has huge disparities between white and Black test takers. On the ACT, Black students’ average score was 17.0, while white students’ average score was 22.3. The largest gap comes in the English section, where the average was 15.8 for Black students and 22.0 for white students in 2014.
These score gaps exist in large part due to the income disparity present between white and non-white families. White families are more likely to be able to provide private tutoring for their children, thus allowing them to get higher scores on the tests. According to the College Board, as little as 6-8 hours of personalized SAT prep can lead to an average score increase of 90 points on the test. This score increase may seem small, but it contributes to the disparity between Black and white students’ test scores in a big way.
Families with less money are also likely to live in districts with lower-quality public schools. In districts with these under-funded public schools, children are less likely to get the resources they need to do well on these standardized tests. According to a 2019 report, high-poverty districts serving mostly students of color receive about $1,600 less per student than the national average. That money, if available, could go towards career readiness or college readiness programs for these students.
Last year, when many schools put a temporary pause on accepting standardized tests, I was hopeful. Many schools stopped requiring the SAT and ACT for admission, largely because tests simply weren’t being administered. But, students who were able to take the tests and submit their scores were at an inherent advantage. Brandeis is one of those schools. They’ve gone test-optional, but students who do well and choose to submit their test scores still have an edge over those who don’t.
All that said, I think that Brandeis should go test-blind, meaning that they don’t factor standardized test scores into admissions at all. This would allow students who have previously been marginalized by these tests to get a fairer look in the admissions process, and negate some (but not all) of the advantages that students of a higher socioeconomic background have in the process.
Brandeis has a long history of admitting people who were deemed unworthy by other schools; it was founded to take in students rejected by Ivy League schools simply because they were Jewish. In going test-blind, Brandeis has a chance to make another stride towards the equity that it was founded upon. Brandeis may not be the first major university to ignore standardized test scores, but the university’s administration can make waves in higher education by going test-blind.