Letter to the Editor: How the SAT clears a path for all students

Dear Editor,

An opinion piece recently published in the Daily Campus conveyed author Harry Zehner’s experience and his distaste for taking the SAT. Unfortunately, the piece also conflates personal experiences with those of all students and, in the process, mischaracterized the role of the SAT. It is particularly important to understand the SAT’s role in the college admissions process at public universities like UConn. The redesigned SAT propels more students – especially low-income and first-generation students – to college.

My colleagues and I at the College Board share the same central belief as Mr. Zehner: merit, not privilege, must be the key to determining access to higher education. In redesigning the SAT two years ago, we rededicated ourselves to our 100-year-old mission of clearing a path for all students to own their future. Here are the facts about the new SAT:

  • It’s easier than ever to prepare for the SAT. Students no longer need expensive test prep to do well. The SAT comes with free, personalized study tools from Khan Academy, which new research shows leads to substantial SAT score gains Studying for the SAT for 20 hours using Official SAT Practice is linked to an average score gain of 115 points. That’s nearly double the average gain among students who did not use it. What’s especially encouraging is that the research found this practice advanced students regardless of gender, race, income, and high school GPA.

  • It’s also easier than ever for students to show their best work on the SAT. There is no penalty for guessing, there are no obscure “SAT words,” and only relevant math concepts are tested. It measures what students are learning in the classrooms across Connecticut and what research shows they need to be ready for college and career.

  • Low-income students who take the SAT can apply to college, send their scores, and apply for financial aid for as many colleges as they choose – all for free.

Students and educators have embraced the changes to the SAT and the benefits tied to them. In fact, more and more districts and states – including Connecticut – are offering the SAT at no cost to all students during the school day. This comes at a time when there is a growing consensus among researchers that offering the SAT at no cost during the school day propels more students into college. For example, new independent research from Michigan suggests students who take college entrance exams in states that administer them during the school day see higher college attendance rates—and low-income students benefit the most. 

The aversion to testing is understandable. Yet college entrance exams like the SAT serve as an objective measure that helps admissions officers fairly understand students’ achievement, no matter their background.  New research on grade inflation in high schools shows that since 1998, the number of SAT takers with an ‘A’ average has risen from 39 to 47%, despite a slight decline in SAT scores. A deeper look at the changes in high school grades also uncovers an equity issue:

  • High schools with the largest increases in GPA over time had the lowest percentage of black, Hispanic, and low-income students.

  • Meanwhile, students whose parents had the lowest levels of education experienced the least grade inflation.

  • This means that because of grade inflation, it’s now more difficult for minority students, lower-income students, and students from lower-resourced schools to distinguish themselves as academic contenders through grades alone.

This is one reason why leaders in the college enrollment community recognize the SAT as an important part of a holistic admission process—one factor among many that can show a students’ true potential for success.

Assertions such as those in this piece do a disservice to his many peers at UConn whose hard work on the SAT has paid off and propelled them to college, and for students who could benefit from all that the new SAT offers. The SAT holds the door open to college opportunity—not just for a privileged few, but for all students.

Nathan Boltseridge

Class of 2001 (CLAS)