The Inequity of Standardized Testing


Kathryn Zheng, Staff Writer

For high schoolers around the world, the SAT is their St. Peter—their gatekeeper to heaven, or, in other words, their dream college. Even in the age of “holistic” admissions, the SAT is one of the primary factors used by admissions officers at top colleges to weed out applicants.

Though the SAT has been deemed by many to be flawed—after all, why should one three-hour test determine the future of a student?—others argue that it has its merits. They opine that a student’s GPA, when considered with the invaluable context of an SAT score, becomes much more evaluable by admissions officers. A high GPA coupled with an astonishingly low SAT score could signify that a student hasn’t sufficiently challenged him or herself or that a school suffers from rampant grade inflation. A lower GPA coupled with a high SAT score could either indicate that a student is simply unwilling to put in effort consistently or that the school he or she is attending is extremely challenging but the student is nonetheless bright. Some thus argue that an SAT score is needed to truly complete the profile of a student and allow a college to determine if that particular applicant deserves a spot at that school.

However, the SAT is undeniably flawed. The SAT, instead of being a tool to allow for socioeconomic advancement, only enforces the status quo. According to The Washington Post, on the old SAT, low-income students scored roughly 400 points lower than their wealthier peers did. One of the main factors behind this is a blatant opportunity gap: students from lower-income families are simply not given the same chances to improve their scores as students from wealthier backgrounds. A high schooler with an annual family income of $200,000 may be able to afford a six-week-long SAT prep course over the summer, during which his or her composite score would be more likely to see a significant increase. On the other hand, a high schooler whose annual family income is around 30,000 dollars will likely never have the opportunity to take part in a pricey test preparation program.

When the new SAT was introduced in 2015, one of the primary arguments of its makers was that it would help to close this opportunity gap. No longer would obscure vocabulary words, such as “panacea” and “crepuscular,” be a part of the reading portion of the test. According to The Atlantic, the College Board visualized a test that emphasized skills students could gain by simply taking part in a classroom setting; in other words, the test would provide more of an equal footing for all students.

Unfortunately, the new SAT has not been able to fulfill this lofty goal. According to a report conducted by the College Board itself, a wealth gap persists: students who indicated that they needed fee waivers in order to pay for the test scored an average of 200 points lower than their peers who were able to pay for it in full.

Another initiative the College Board undertook in hopes of minimizing the wealth and opportunity gaps was a partnership with Khan Academy, a website that provides students with lectures and free practice problems in various fields of study. Khan Academy now provides free SAT tests and practice problems in reading, writing, and math. Despite this, many students have expressed that these simply aren’t enough. The explanations given by Khan Academy for why an answer is correct are brief and impersonal. Additionally, Khan Academy doesn’t provide test-takers with effective strategies for the SAT—though the SAT may claim to be simply a “scholastic achievement test,” it’s undeniable that there are “tips and tricks” that can help a student improve their score.

Sparky Prep was started in hopes of minimizing these persistent wealth and opportunity gaps. Its tutors and founders have first-hand experience and knowledge of the iniquity existing within standardized testing, and they wholeheartedly believe that this problem must be effectively tackled. They know careful explanations of problems are critical for a test-taker to understand why an answer is correct, so the tutors were selected based upon their surpassing ability to explain answer choices, both in detail and with an eye towards broader concepts. However, the tutors aren’t only able to explain problems in detail; the majority also scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT. Sparky Prep is easy to use—all you have to do is fill in a form that includes your email address and the problem you want a better understanding of—and the tutors are extremely accessible and passionate.

Standardized testing must become more equitable. Sparky Prep hopes to be a part of the solution.