Do Standardized Test Scores Equal Student Success?

The latest SAT results are in, but it seems students are less prepared for college than ever.

The College Board, owner of the SAT, released results for the Class of 2015. Scores dropped to their lowest level in ten years. The average score was 1490 out of a possible 2400, down seven points from the previous year. Most concerning, the College Board reported that 57% of the 1.7 million test-takers did not meet the college and career readiness benchmark score of 1550. Scores were drastically lower for minority groups, particularly among African American and Hispanic students (see below).

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Source. College Board. 2015 College Board Program Results. Retrieved from http://www.collegeboard.org/program-results

Students taking the ACT – the sister college admissions test – did not perform much better. For the Class of 2015, the average ACT score was 21 out of a maximum 36, which has remained unchanged from the previous year. Of the 1.9 million test-takers, 31% did not meet the college readiness benchmark score in any of the academic areas. Similar to the SAT results, scores reflected wide ethnic achievement gaps as African American and Hispanic students were far less academically prepared than their Asian and White peers.

The SAT and ACT have always been valued as predictors of college readiness and success. But should they? Test scores historically correlate with family earnings rather than a student’s academic potential. Affluent students who can afford expensive test-prep classes tend to achieve higher scores. The College Board has teamed up with Khan Academy to offer free online test preparation for the redesigned SAT, but it is unclear whether such changes will help low-income, minority students perform better on the test. 

In the past few years, more and more students are taking both tests and submitting the one with the highest score in order to increase their chance of acceptance. But what about low income, minority students who perform poorly on these tests? There may be another option. Over 800 U.S. colleges and universities have moved to test optional. That is, they do not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores. Institutions in favor of this movement purport that standardized tests fail to adequately measure student success, and removing them as a requirement actually diversifies the applicant pool. Take caution, though, as applying to test-optional schools does not necessarily equate to a greater chance of being admitted. So despite test redesigns and free test preparation, it seems low-income, minority students are still at a disadvantage.