Amidst the pandemic, there’s renewed interest in removing the SAT and ACT from the college admission decision process. There are certainly valid reasons why such an argument makes sense. But Riley makes a compelling counterpoint to one common refrain, that the SAT is itself biased.
Ultimately, the SAT is discriminatory by definition. It is designed to discriminate based on intellectual background and test ability. It is true, however, that people of poor backgrounds have a worse educational system to begin with, and so it makes sense that they would perform worse on the SAT when compared with their wealthier peers. This performance disparity is in fact quite staggering, and I’ve written about the College Board’s effort to alleviate this by creating an adversity index. This effort falls flat in many ways, but does help demonstrate that a lot of work needs to be done.
Despite all of the problems that the SAT does have (including the monopoly of the College Board with college admissions), there is one upside. Having a test that is taken by a large swath of the population provides significant insight into the education system.
I would argue that the SAT does a lot to show the disparity in a concrete and near-universal way. Riley argues the same, “Given [the] vast differences in upbringings, habits, attitudes and priorities across various groups, why would we expect to see anything approaching racial or ethnic parity in SAT scores? These disparities may become more apparent when we look at the test results, but that doesn’t mean the test is causing the results. And it doesn’t follow that scrapping the test will do anything to resolve the underlying disparities” (2020). Likewise, the SAT correlates well with college outcomes.
Putting more focus on the educational systems that are at the heart of the problem, though substantially more difficult and out of the control of colleges, will be a much more effective solution. As Riley summarily ends, “getting rid of the SAT will only obscure where they are, not change the discomfiting reality” (2020).
“Scrapping the SAT Won’t Help Black and Latino Students,” by Jason Riley, May 26, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/scrapping-the-sat-wont-help-black-and-latino-students-11590532734