Are Standardized Tests Fair?

The dreaded SAT and ACT tests provide a way for students to distinguish themselves in the college admissions process while also allowing the colleges to establish their standards for applicants. Many argue that aside from sheer intelligence, there are many ways to enhance performance on these standardized tests. Some believe that there is a direct correlation between wealth and high scores, so the purpose and meaning of standardized testing is often called into question.

One recent study that applies specifically to the Georgia public school system has resulted in data sets that establish a direct association between schools’ average SAT scores and the poverty rates at each school. The statistical data for this study was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Oct. 6 article by Ty Tagami and Wayne Washington matched high schools’ average scores with an often-used index for poverty, the percentage of students eligible for federally subsidized school meals. The results were clear: the higher a school’s percentage of students below the poverty line, the worse that school’s students tended to perform on the SAT. No school with two-thirds or more of its student body below the poverty line was able to match or exceed the state average SAT score of 1452 out of the possible 2400.

One issue with the standardized tests, as revealed by other studies, is that those who can afford more and better tutoring unsurprisingly score higher on average than those who cannot afford it. Students are able to perform better on the test because they are well prepared, not necessarily because they possess a higher level of intelligence.

Lack of access to advanced courses is also a major problem that puts many students at a disadvantage. Many schools do not have sufficient AP, honors, or other advanced courses that would allow students to prepare and learn to the best of their abilities, inhibiting students’ abilities to perform as well as possible on the exams. The College Board reported in an Oct. 13 press release,”The need to expand access to rigorous course work among underrepresented minority students is critical. College Board data shows that underrepresented minority and low-income students are less likely to complete a core curriculum, less likely to pursue more advanced honors or AP course work and less likely to report a GPA equivalent to an A.”

There is a clear problem with the standardized testing methods, with so many students at a disadvantage because of the school they attend, lack of availability of advanced courses, and lack of access to SAT and ACT tutors, among other issues. The problem seems practically unsolvable; those who can afford tutoring will definitely use this advantage to try to better their scores. The question then becomes, for the College Board and ACT, Inc., can there ever really be a level playing field when it comes to standardized testing?

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