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After all this time, is the SAT still important? Why are some universities reintroducing it?

Seniors from Brighton High School, wearing caps with the phrases "I Did It" and "On To My Next Dream," await their graduation ceremony on June 15, 2021, in Boston's Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox of Major League Baseball.

After all this time, is the SAT still important? Why are some universities reintroducing it?
After all this time, is the SAT still important? Why are some universities reintroducing it?

Many American teenagers have taken the SAT, a multi-hour exam that raises blood pressure and is said to have the power to make or break their academic destiny.

The SAT is the country’s most established standardized test for college admissions, but it has been dogged by controversy for decades due to allegations of prejudice and accusations that it reduces prospective students to a number on the test. It has also been criticized for being a component of the high entrance requirements for the purported American meritocracy.

Some saw promise for a more fair period of college admissions during the COVID-19 epidemic, when dozens of the nation’s most elite universities paused their standardized testing requirements.

However, a lot of these institutions have reversed course on their test-optional rules this year. However, according to Fair Test, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, at least 1,825 US colleges and universities—that is, more than 80% of four-year institutions—will continue to waive testing requirements for admissions in 2025.

The post-pandemic fragmentation of admissions rules has rekindled the discourse over the SAT’s necessity.

Is it better to test or not?

The SAT has long been the target of criticism. The exam’s original name was the “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” It was created in the 1920s by Princeton-based eugenicist Carl Brigham, who modified US Army mental tests to see if they could be used to gauge students’ innate intelligence. Brigham felt that immigration was weakening American intelligence. A few years later, Brigham withdrew some of his statements.

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After all this time, is the SAT still important? Why are some universities reintroducing it?
After all this time, is the SAT still important? Why are some universities reintroducing it?

Since the 1920s, the SAT has undergone a “complete overhaul,” according to the educational non-profit College Board, which creates and delivers the test. It now assesses a student’s mastery of certain subject matter rather than their innate ability.

However, the test’s racist and classist past has called into question the necessity of high-stakes testing altogether. The SAT and its equivalent, the ACT, can play an excessively significant role in the college admissions process, according to the National Education Association.

We must be careful not to depend too much on them, as they are not comprehensive. They are a single moment in time that can make all the difference in your college acceptance,” Daaiyah Bilal-Threats, the director of policy at the NEA, told CNN.

The majority of institutions do not intend to reinstate their pre-pandemic testing mandates.

Following the announcement by some Ivy League schools that they would reinstate their testing requirements, Fair Test Executive Director Harry Feder stated in a statement released in February that “test-optional policies continue to dominate at national universities, state flagships, and selective liberal arts colleges because they typically result in more applicants, academically stronger applicants, and more diversity.”

On June 27, 2002, in New York City, SAT exam preparation books were arranged on a shelf in a Barnes & Noble store.

A report published in October 2023 by market researcher Technavio states that the test prep sector in the United States is expected to increase by approximately 7% to over $50 billion by 2027, largely due to the significant emphasis on high SAT scores.

 

After all this time, is the SAT still important? Why are some universities reintroducing it?
After all this time, is the SAT still important? Why are some universities reintroducing it?

Inequality in the educational system seems to be reflected in discrepancies with standardized testing.

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As many institutions did during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, several experts point out that eliminating the SAT as a requirement for admissions accomplishes little to address systemic inequality. Indeed, it may even highlight the discrepancy more clearly.

Richer students might have access to prominent internships, universities with more funding for extracurricular activities and athletics, and music and art departments—all components of the standard college application.

Lower socioeconomic status students do not participate in these ostentatious extracurricular activities. They haven’t performed in an upscale jazz ensemble.

They don’t offer high-end internships. In Guatemala, they are not engaged in volunteer labor. Nevertheless, a few of them will be very talented pupils, according to Daniel Koretz, a Harvard Graduate School of Education expert on testing policy. The challenge, he continues, is: how do schools locate these students?

Koretz claims that the SAT’s enduring popularity is due to its ability to accurately predict students’ college performance.

High school grades are not as good a predictor of performance as standardized tests, according to a January study by Harvard’s Opportunity Insights Center.

Crucially, the study also discovered that college GPAs are “virtually identical” for individuals from various socioeconomic backgrounds with comparable test results.

Outside the Dartmouth College admissions office in Hanover, New Hampshire, on February 8, 2024. According to news released by Dartmouth College, starting with the upcoming application cycle, applicants for the class of 2029 will once again need to submit their results from standardized tests.

A few weeks following the publication of the paper, a number of institutions that had been test-optional for almost four years formally changed their minds.

 

A testing requirement was reinstated at Yale and Dartmouth in February, and other private and public universities like Brown, Georgetown, Harvard, the University of Florida, and the University of Texas at Austin swiftly followed suit.

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In a statement released in February, Dartmouth stated that “SATs and ACTs can be especially helpful in identifying students from less-resourced backgrounds who would succeed at Dartmouth but might otherwise be missed in a test-optional environment.”

In March, UT Austin stated, “An SAT or ACT score is a proven differentiator that is in each student’s and the university’s best interest, especially with an abundance of high school GPAs around 4.0.”

Standardized tests are still necessary.

According to education experts who talked with CNN, there is no “standard” American education, which makes the SAT vital.

Various schools could use various standards for grading. The weighting of grade point averages varies throughout schools. In a certain district, a 4.0 GPA is equal to an A+ in an AP course. It might be 5.0, 4.5, or 4.2 in another.

Certain teachers may give more or less forgiving grades than others, even within the same school and subject.

Standardized testing is likely to remain in place unless US education becomes more standardized in other ways, experts told CNN. This is because college admissions staff simply cannot account for all of these minute variances.

 

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