No one who knows me or my work would be surprised by my unequivocal endorsement of the value of properly designed and administered standardized tests. Nor would a single soul be shocked by my convictions about the value of the right tests in academic admissions decisions. My support for testing doesn’t spring from my profession as an educator. In fact, the opposite is true. Testing acumen opened access to the kind of high quality high school education most Bronx kids just don’t get. Test scores also secured special scholarships that made a SUNY degree at least somewhat affordable.
My experience is, by no means, unique, but neither is it the narrative we’ve heard about testing over the last several years. The SAT was explicitly introduced to open doors to higher education that were previously closed to certain cultural, religious, and ethnic groups. The SAT and ACT still fulfill that mission, and I’m far from the only one who thinks so. My very smart friend Eva Addae, a partner at Summit Prep, recently contributed a persuasive editorial to the New Jersey Star Ledger: The SAT, ACT are equalizers and predictors of success. Colleges should use the scores.
While Eva focuses the first half of her editorial on efforts to eliminate the influence of testing in academic and admissions evaluations, she then delivers facts about why and for whom tests matter:
The crusaders make no effort to fix the causes of unequal academic readiness and instead want to throw out the measures of academic readiness. The SAT and ACT evaluate students on fundamental grammar, mathematics, reading and data analysis. All students can learn these topics to become better equipped to succeed in high school, in college and in life. We should be encouraging them to gain this knowledge that will also help them get admitted to college and receive scholarships to pay for it instead of telling them that measures of their academic readiness do not matter.
Demonstrated college readiness profoundly matters. Currently, one-third of the students at four-year colleges do not graduate within 6 years. They drop out with debt that cannot be discharged even in bankruptcy and are likely to be in default on that debt.
Accurately predicting outcomes so students are matched to colleges at which they will best succeed is crucially important. As a single Black mom who has struggled to provide for my son in a world that will judge him on the color of his skin, I take issue with someone saying they are trying to help me while at the same time tearing down the education system that has been the envy of the world and one of the main reasons my parents brought my family to this country.
We need to do more, not less, to encourage all students — especially disadvantaged minority students — to achieve academically. The SAT and ACT are more accessible now than ever before. Not only can students on fee waivers take the SAT twice for free and the ACT four times for free, but they can get free test prep from the SAT and ACT as well.
Anti-test crusaders should become student and education advocates who work to increase access to the tests, such as by encouraging states to offer free testing to all students on a school day, so all students have a greater opportunity to highlight their academic readiness for college.
Every year, I hear more stories than I can count about the opportunities unlocked by exceptional test scores, which are themselves unlocked by academic excellence, hard work, and grit. These stories matter today as much as they ever have. If you have a story of how test scores opened up opportunity for you or someone in your family, please share it in the comments!