What can you buy with $420?
Roughly two weeks of groceries for a family of four, or two months of your home’s utility bill, or 183 gallons of gas. That’s about 58 hours of work at Virginia’s minimum wage — $7.25 per hour — yet it’s the cost of just three hours with an SAT tutor from the Princeton Review’s cheapest package.
The SAT has been mockingly referred to as the “Student Affluence Test,” and it’s not hard to see why. As reported by the Washington Post, students from households with yearly incomes of over $200,000 score, on average, 388 points higher than their peers from the below-$20,000 bracket. Children whose parents have graduate degrees score hundreds of points above those whose parents only have high school degrees. Students who have the chance to take the PSAT also score higher than those who didn’t take it. And, of course, underscoring this whole phenomenon is race — white students continue to score better than their African-American, Native-American and Latinx classmates.
In the world of standardized testing, money is everything.
Of course, families with more money can pay for prep books and tutors and retakes, and those PSAT practice tests that correlate with better SAT performance. Richer families with higher levels of education, who tend to be white, make college an expectation. They have disposable income, leisure time, familiarity with navigating college and access to better schools and resources at every step. There’s no way we can consider this a level playing field.
And yet “standardized” implies that test scores can be compared across all students as an objective measure of intelligence. But that seems grotesquely in contrast with reality, when students from these ideal learning environments sit down next to their peers who may not have had the money for breakfast that morning, much less weeks with a tutor.
The greatest predictor of a student’s success in college is high school GPA, which has zero correlation with family income. Yet the University of Richmond still requires every student to submit test scores from standardized tests like the SAT, tests that consistently favor richer students and whiter students.
So what does this say about UR’s commitment to diversity?
If we can agree that tests like these are a flawed measure of student achievement, it is our responsibility to allow prospective students to choose not to submit them. If UR can step up to the plate and take concrete action, this goal can be more than a lofty aspiration, but a genuine, life-changing reality.
And we know success is possible. Wake Forest University, which went test-optional in 2009, saw an increase in ethnic diversity of 54 percent from 2008 to 2015 and has found no difference in academic performance between those who submitted scores and those who didn’t. In fact, over 950 accredited colleges are now test-optional or test-flexible, including Richmond “competitors” Middlebury, Bowdoin, Colorado and Smith.
Test scores don’t need to be completely excluded from a holistic admissions process. At a test-optional school, prospective students can still choose to submit SAT and ACT scores that they’re proud of. But, in letting students put their best foot forward, it’s important that we allow them the opportunity to choose not to include measures that don’t properly reflect their ability — measures that may have more to do with their family’s tax bracket than their true potential.
Going test-optional is the next logical step in the university’s move toward becoming a stronger, smarter school that prioritizes diversity of all types and works to correct systemic injustice. We cannot afford to be afraid of educational progress.
Contact opinion contributor and copy editor Molly Brind'Amour at firstname.lastname@example.org.