You might be reading the title of this blog and scratching your head. Us too. A lawsuit was filed Tuesday alleging that by requiring the SAT or ACT for admission, the University of California system is violating the constitution.
The lawsuit, filed by a pro bono law firm on behalf of a coalition of advocacy groups, claims that standardized tests like the SAT and ACT discriminate against students based on income and race, denying students equal protection under the California Constitution.
This lawsuit is not the first time the merits of standardized tests, like the SAT and ACT, have been scrutinized. Surely in an era of democratization of higher education, standardized tests will come under the microscope. This movement has seen over 1,000 schools, including selective institutions like the University of Chicago, declare that they are test optional. Even the Chancellor of UC Berkeley conceded that she is in favor of “doing away with the SAT or ACT as a requirement for application to the University of California” (the University commented that this quote is not indicative of a policy change).
Obviously, as a standardized test prep company, we do not believe the SATs should be illegal. But, the link between SAT scores and family income is indisputable. The advantage that the wealthy have in college admissions is, likewise, indisputable. We know that many with the means will do all they can to ensure that their children get into the best college possible. Often, this means spending money on standardized test prep.
However, getting rid of the SATs doesn’t magically level the playing field. Furthermore, we can’t blame standardized tests for unequal educational outcomes. We should ask ourselves why standardized tests tell a very somber story: that low income and minority students aren’t adequately served by the public school system.
The truth is that the issues that lead to inequalities in higher education start long before a student has thought about their SATs. Blaming standardized tests, or fighting to make them illegal, likely won’t lead to better educational outcomes for low income students.
In fact, we believe that the SATs might be a tool for leveling the playing field for talented, low-income students. While disadvantaged students might not be able to compete in expensive extracurriculars, offerings for AP or advanced classes, or other factors of the college application process that are intimately tied to family income, they can perform well on a test that supposedly confirms their intellectual capabilities.
Now, imagine a world without the SAT. Would students from underfunded public schools even have a chance at gaining admission to selective colleges? Or would all of the spots go to students at elite private schools with decades-long reputations of prestige? The SAT doesn’t level the playing field, but it could, and it isn’t going away anytime soon.