One of the articles we read for Politics of Reading this week was a New York Times column by Frank Bruni, called “Rethinking College Admissions.”
Part of that article was about how some colleges no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. In my opinion that’s a very good thing, because the admissions process, as Bruni notes,
“fails to include — and identify the potential in — enough kids from less privileged backgrounds….And late last year, more than 80 colleges, including all eight in the Ivy League, announced the formation of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which is developing a website and application process intended in part to diversify student bodies.
Colleges are becoming more conscious of their roles — too frequently neglected — in social mobility. They’re recognizing how many admissions measures favor students from affluent families.”
Specifically, students whose parents who can afford test preparation services (such as Kaplan) or private tutors have yet another advantage over students whose families cannot afford them.
I have been thinking about this lately because I work in a public library that is a popular site for tutoring sessions. I have noticed many private SAT prep sessions taking place, and sometimes overhear a good bit of what is being said when I am working within earshot. The thing is, all of the high school students I hear being coached are white and middle-class. They attend competitive high schools in the area. They don’t seem like the kids who would most need SAT/ACT tutoring sessions–but they are the ones who can afford it.
The kids who would most benefit from SAT test prep are more like the kids I work with at a local middle school. They have dreams of going to “good colleges,” too; but because of their family backgrounds and finances, they are much less likely to have a shot at it than the kids I see being tutored privately at the public library. One of the students I work with wants to be an electrical engineer, but he would be the first in his family to go to college. His parents are less likely to know about private SAT test prep and less likely to be able to afford it than affluent, college-educated parents.
From the comments section of the NY Times article:
Southern Hope, Chicago January 19, 2016
“My kid attends a urban public high school with 70% of the kids on reduced-lunch program. But we are a family with extra funds (since we don’t have to pay private school tuition) so we decided to spend $1300 on ACT/SAT tutoring. While its hard to say what my son might have scored had he received no private tutoring, his scores went straight up once he completed the tutoring. And because of his score (which rose, primarily, by being taught the timing and tricks behind these tests), he’s now eligible for more schools.
“The bottom line is that money makes all of the difference here. He’s no smarter than he was before we spent the money but raising his standardized scores made him *appear* to be smarter.
“And that’s the advantage that 70% of the kids in his class will never have. It’s way past time to change the way we admit kids.”
Another commenter agreed, and commented:
Cristina Aguila, Key Largo, FL January 20, 2016
“As a senior currently awaiting college decisions, this article speaks to me. I entered high school with the understanding that I had to do everything right if I was to go to an elite school. I was very successful academically until I reached my junior year- I piled on as many AP courses and extracurriculars as I could…. What really let me know that my future was ‘shot’ however, were my SAT scores. I expected 700s. I performed much lower than that. With private tutoring however, I raised them over 120 points. Keep in mind that if my parents did not have the money to do this, my application would be laughable.“
But still another commenter had this to say:
Anton Call, Salt Lake, UT January 20, 2016
“For better or worse, parents will always have the right to help their kids get an edge. Whether it’s staying at home to help them learn to read or paying for an SAT prep course, the upper class will always have the advantage. That is why college admissions (and life in general) will never be fair.”
So if life in general will never be completely fair, is it useless to try to make the playing field more level? I don’t think so. Perhaps the upper class will always have an advantage, as the previous commenter noted; but being aware that the system is regularly gamed by those who already have all kinds of advantages ought to prompt us to do something to mitigate it.