College admission in the US is getting competitive than ever before. Over the past few years, all Ivy League schools have been admitting fewer students than before from the total applicant pool. Although there are more students submitting applications. With the falling acceptance rate of students at top colleges, high school students are under more pressure to do whatever they can to get into elite schools. The prime example being the “Varsity Blues” scandal.  That’s because a college degree, especially from an elite school has been shown to translate to better employment opportunities and thereby a higher income.

Lawsuits against the University of California

The University of California is facing lawsuits from students, educators, and advocates over its use of SAT and ACT as a criterion for college admission. These suits could heavily influence all college admission processes in the US as the University of California is one of the biggest public university systems in the country.

The plaintiffs argue that SAT and ACT exams are discriminatory against certain underprivileged applicants because not all students have the economic means and resources to prepare for them. They put the students at a disadvantage by creating a lucrative test prep industry and repeatedly producing test questions that are biased against Black and Hispanic students. Only 1% of Black students and 2% of Hispanic students as compared to 12% of white students were given admission at UC. The proponents say that this exam truly measures how a student will perform in the first year of his college. They also believe that standardized tests are important in predicting an applicant’s ability to succeed under the UC system.

Two months after the suit was filed, UC released a report from its Academic Council’s Standardized Testing Task Force recommending the UC system keep the SAT and ACT as an admission requirement. Many colleges require standardized exams for admission to see whether the applicant has the potential to succeed under the prevailing UC system. In May 2019, the College Board conducted a series of studies to show the validity of the SAT for predicting first-year grades and second-year retention. The study says higher the SAT score the higher your first-year GPA. However, the plaintiffs in the suit argue that these studies only take two predictors of college success into account: SAT scores and First-year GPA. It didn’t control any factors relating to socio-economic status.

History of the SAT

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The SAT was initially introduced in 1926 in an effort to standardize the admission process. The College Board, a private non-profit organization in the US, owns, develops, and publishes SAT. In 2017, it had roughly $1.068 of revenue. Its creator, Karl Bringham, based the test on previous IQ tests that measured intelligence and aptitude as suggested by its original name the Scholastic Aptitude Test. As more and more universities and private institutions started using the SAT. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) was founded in 1947 to administer and develop the test.

Then in 1959, the ACT entered the market and became an alternative exam for the applicants. However, the belief that the SAT was founded as a test of intelligence rather than mastery of high school subject matter is what ignites controversies regarding race and socio-economic biases. In September 2015, Inside HigherEd reported that in each of the three sections in SAT the lowest of average were among students from families who make less than $20,000 in family income. Meanwhile, the highest average scores were among those with above $200,000 in family income.

Test Prep Industry

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Taking standardized tests comes with costly fees and even higher prices to prepare for them. The basic registration fee for the SAT is $49.50. The basic fee waiver that the college board with other groups make available it doesn’t bite anywhere in nearly the whole iceberg of costs associated with admissions. Both college board and ACT offer their official test prep guides on their websites.

But most wealthy families go beyond these test prep material to study for this exam. Kaplan, The Princeton Review and Ivy Bound are just a few examples of the test prep academies that provide online classes, in-person classes, and private tutoring. According to IBISWorld, the test preparation industry is expected to report total revenue of $1.1 bn for 2019. Of that number, exam preparation services are anticipated to account for 25% of revenue. From 2019 to 2024, the industry revenue is predicted to increase an annualized 1.8% to $1.2bn. Will SAT and ACT become illegal?

Possible Discrimination

In addition to socio-economic biases, the plaintiffs in the suit further added that standardized tests have shown discrimination against minority students. The plaintiffs claimed that by repeatedly producing a score distribution that compares students with one another, the test development process continuously discards items on which minority students perform well and retains questions on which they do not. US psychometricians found that up to 12% of items on the SAT are biased against black students and up to 10% are biased against Latinx students. However, the College Board denied the claims saying that it has every strict measure and specification for every question it gives in the exam. It also stated that if students of various races respond differently to the same question they discarded immediately. The Fairness Review Panel then evaluates all the questions again before they are actually given in the test. Will SAT and ACT become Illegal?

Possible Solutions

Therefore, In response to criticisms against the SAT, the College Board relaunched its Environmental Context Dashboard as a new tool called Landscape. It averages six neighborhood indicators and provides a rating for each factor on a scale from 1 to 100. This creates comparative scores on a percentile basis for colleges to look at in their application review process. College Board and the National Council Measurement Education recognize the issues faced by underprivileged students. However, they believe that simply getting rid off standardized exams will not solve these problems.

Proponents of standardized exams argue that achievement gaps across different ethnic and socioeconomic groups exist at a very early age. They believe that educators should talk more about better solutions than totally getting rid of the tests. In recent years, many US colleges have adopted alternative admission policies such as test-optional. The University of Chicago launched test-optional admissions in 2018. Rather than assessing applicant’s standardized test scores, the admissions officers focus on student’s secondary school report, high school transcript and teacher recommendations.

The university also allows all applicants to submit a wide range of supplemental materials such as creative writing projects, highlights from music, dance or theatre performance, and school capstone projects. As a result, for the class of 2023, the University of Chicago saw a 24% increase in first-generation college-going students, a 10% increase in African-American students, a 17% increase in Hispanic students, and 60% increase in applications from rural students. 

Also Read: Is The Indian Banking System Become Stable?

Word for SAT and ACT becoming illegal.

While the test-optional policies have improved diversity, some are concerned that it doesn’t completely remove the stigmatization of students as applicants may still choose to submit their scores. Only 10-15% of students in the freshman class didn’t submit their SAT scores. While higher education institutions and experts still search for better policies. The plaintiffs in the University of California lawsuit believe that solely making standardized tests optional doesn’t suffice. If the University loses the suit, the higher system of education will change forever. Will SAT and ACT become illegal?