Education Opinion

SAT’s for All? One More Bad Idea From the Political Elite

By Starr Sackstein — March 10, 2016 4 min read
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Guest post by Douglas W. Green, EdD


On March 2, 2016, juniors at 92 New York City high schools opened their test booklets and took the new SAT during regular school hours. Next year this program will expand to all city high schools thanks to mayor Bill de Blasio’s conviction that it will serve to make college more accessible for more city students.

Just how low performing students who otherwise would not take this test benefit is beyond me. Just about all of these additional students are candidates for open-door two-year schools that don’t require the test or even a high school diploma. These are not student who are candidates for the decreasing number of competitive schools that still require the SAT or its competitor the ACT.

Thanks to the vision of a politician, students in New York City now we have one more required standardized test that is sure to frustrate many poor and minority students and make them feel like failures. I know you can’t technically fail an SAT, but students will know if they are doing well or not. This test will also take time away from something else in schools that have already been spending too much time prepping and taking ELA and math tests at the expense of things like social studies, science, the arts, physical education, and recess.

How does giving a test to poor kids help when the results of the SAT are already strongly correlated with income by zip code? If low SAT scores have kept successful students out of college as David O’Hara, the principal of Leaders High School in Gravesend, Brooklyn claims, how does simply giving the test to all make any difference? Mr. O’Hara also admits that there is no funding for a Saturday class for the additional students who will be taking the test. In essence, New York City is giving many students a test that they are not prepared for. If this isn’t malpractice, I don’t know what else to call it.

Keep in mind that this is happening in light of recent findings that one’s GPA trumps the SAT in predicting college success, and that every year more colleges become test optional. By taking more time away from class activities that lead towards grades and one’s GPA, it seems that diverting time to take the SAT could only have a negative impact on student access to college and success once they arrive.

To make matters worse, this is the first year for the “new SAT.” A recent New York Times article reveals that the new test features longer and more difficult reading passages on the reading part, and more reading on the math part making it more of a reading test. The article claims that the average readability on the new test is at least a grade level higher. This is bad news for English Language Learners and other students with disabilities that make reading more of a challenge. It also means that the test is totally inappropriate for even more students. Giving the SAT to students near the bottom percentiles of student achievement seems like abuse to me.

While I’m all for making the test available for free to poor students, I see no reason for taxpayers to foot the bill for rich kids. This is just one more way the rich get richer as these are the same students whose parents can also afford to pay for SAT prep classes beyond the school day. It’s ironic that a mayor who claims to be a champion of the poor has put in place a program that gives the haves another free step up the ladder of success.

SATs for all is another reflection of how education continues to suffer from reforms mandated by politicians from both sides of the political spectrum with encouragement from corporate elites. Schools are also run by school boards composed of elected volunteers who for the most part also lack real educational expertise. I respect the time and devotion that school board members give, but let me know if you are aware of any business where the people at the top lack strong expertise in the business they run.

Lack of expertise at the top is one reason why schools and businesses differ. The second reason that separates schools from businesses is that schools, or at least public schools, have no control over their raw materials. Expecting schools to be run like a business is, in a word, INSANE! That doesn’t mean that educators can’t learn from some of what business does. I know I have. It does mean that business people and politicians should get out of the way and let educators run our schools. If this happens things can only get better.

Support resources:

Hartocollis, Anemona. New SAT Has More Reading (Even in Math) and More Fretting, February 9, 2016. //nyti.ms/1Qqq1ST

National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Colleges and Universities That Do Not Use SAT/ACT Scores for Admitting Substantial Numbers of Students Into Bachelor Degree Programs. Winter 2016. //bit.ly/1TYHHYj

Taylor, Kate. As City Offers No-Free SAT, Questions About Preparation for Low-Income Students. March 2, 2016. //nyti.ms/1RMG2Dg

Zhang, Zara, Study Finds High School GPA Trumps SAT in Predicting College Success, The Harvard Crimson Admissions Blog. March 3, 2014 //bit.ly/1QqnoR2

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.