The SAT is getting revamped because it’s basically the most useless standardized test essentially designed to exacerbate classism and inequality. What a dumb, dumb test that literally is irrelevant to everything we learn in high school. How will things change? The essay will become optional, no more penalties for guessing wrong and obscure vocabulary words will be omitted.
The president of the College Board, David Coleman, said of the SAT and the ACT, that the tests had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.” I can’t imagine a time when our school system was designed in service to taking the SATs.
The new SAT hopes to be more accessible to low income students by providing free online practice tests and prep. It also hopes to drop arcane vocabulary in exchange for words that actually appear in college like “empirical” and “synthesis.”
The SAT was always criticized for favoring straight, white males with money (like most everything). At first it was hard for me to understand how a general test with mathematics and analogies could be gendered or classist until it was explained to me by a college professor. To paraphrase he said something like, “Your vocabulary is as good as your experiences. If the conditions of your lifestyle aren’t conducive to boating lessons then you are less likely to know the difference between a hull and a cleat.” Our experiences create the vocabulary of the world around us, if we aren’t exposed to certain things than we are less likely to access those words. When it comes to standardized testing the words of men with money are favored. On top of that, SAT prep classes are scarcely offered to low income students and have pretty much become after school courses only available to the schools and parents who can afford them.
Phillip Ballinger, the director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Washington, said of parents freaking out over test prep, “It’s absurd, and that’s the nicest thing I can call it, how much test prep has grown and how guilt-ridden parents have become about trying to prepare their kids for the test. If this helps test prep become learning, not gaming, well, shoot, that’s great. “
While I am glad that steps are being taken to make the test more modern, the gender gap was not even mentioned by Coleman and thus we can assume has not been addressed. Today males outperform females on the SAT, however females outperform males in actual college. If the SAT is meant to predict how we perform at university then it’s terribly inaccurate for predicting how women will perform in college. Instead the tests appears to be designed to shovel in as many males (qualified or not) into universities while leaving (highly qualified) women in the dust.
In the early days of the SATs when males performed worse than females in the Verbal section the test was changed so that males would perform better, however when females underperformed as compared to males in the Math section, no changes were made.
“[F]or the first several years the SAT was offered, males scored higher than females on the Math section but females achieved higher scores on the Verbal section. ETS policy-makers determined that the Verbal test needed to be “balanced” more in favor of males, and added questions pertaining to politics, business and sports to the Verbal portion. Since that time, males have outscored females on both the Math and Verbal sections. Dwyer notes that no similar effort has been made to “balance” the Math section, and concludes that, “It could be done, but it has not been, and I believe that probably an unconscious form of sexism underlies this pattern. When females show the superior performance, ‘balancing’ is required; when males show the superior performance, no adjustments are necessary.”
Studies have found that a “stereotype threat” exists for women, meaning that because women are perceived as inferior in mathematics they are ultimately treated dismissively when being taught the subject and that this belief that women are inferior on the subject actually affects how women perform on these tests.
“The experience of the testing situation itself may be dramatically different for women and men. As the present research shows, stereotype threat as a feature of this situation can undermine women’s performance, precisely when the test is difficult.”
Basically, whether you know the material or not, the idea that you’re not good at math is powerful enough to make you perform poorly—always second guessing yourself. An education system that favors men, combined with standardized testing that favors men, means women will always underperform.
Coleman said, “It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country. It may not be our fault, but it is our problem.” While there was no word on “balancing” the gender gap, the new SAT promises to be more relatable to what we actually learn in high school.