Students must have access to free SAT resources

If some families scramble to afford everyday necessities, then SAT prep is probably not very high on their shopping list. The sad fact is that without access to SAT prep, many students from low income backgrounds can’t compete with students who have access to tutoring or preparatory courses.

According to calculations compiled by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, using data from College Board, SAT scores increase substantially for each income bracket. In recent years increasing amounts of questions have surfaced about the actual fairness of the SAT, especially with the advent of the new SAT. Many agree that the test is just enforcing the the increasing wealth disparity in our country: keeping the privileged wealthy and the underprivileged poor. According to The Wall Street Journal, “the SAT is just another area in American life where economic inequality results in much more than just disparate incomes.”

It’s clear to see that income directly influences scores, but the question is why? Much of the answer lies in the access to preparatory courses and tutoring. According to the College Board, 20 hours of practice roughly correlates with a 115 point score increase. Even smaller increments of coaching have positive effects, as according to the College Board, “6 to 8 hours of practice on Official SAT Practice is associated with an average 90-point increase.” Families in the wealthiest brackets can afford to spend up to thousands of dollars in tutoring or test prep courses. This causes their students to improve their scores often by hundreds of points, while students from lower income backgrounds only have access to the free resources provided to them.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the free resources students have access to. This increase is certainly a victory and seen as a major step forward toward the elusive goal of a level playing field. Khan Academy is one of these free resources that all students have been able to utilize in recent years to improve their scores. While the non-profit does operate to provide resources to students of all backgrounds, it does fall short of giving the personalized teaching of perhaps a tutor or course. In our own school community, an SAT prep class is offered to students for a price of $125, which is an affordable option for many families, but for many it still lies out of reach. For families that might struggle to pay the fee, there are waivers, but they are negotiated on a case to case basis and do not automatically transfer if a student is on a free lunch program because the class is not mandatory. However the school promises that if a student is in need, they will try their best to make sure that student is accommodated for. “We do whatever we possibly can to ensure a student is never turned away because of financial need,” said associate principal of curriculum Dr. Jeff Schagrin. So if students do need a fee waiver they should not be afraid to ask.

Some universities have switched to test score optional admissions processes in light of these inherent biases, one of the more recent converts being the University of Chicago. While it would be ideal to ask colleges to not require standardized tests as part of the college admissions process, the transition is not going to happen overnight. In the meantime, steps toward equality can be implemented at our own school, starting with a more prominent advertisement of fee waiver options and free resources. It is true that arguments can be made condemning the entire American school system of classism, and repairing one avenue of this may not impact such a large injustice, but it would help real students in our community, students who deserve the same chance at an education regardless of economic background.