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March 19, 2015

Socioeconomics and the SAT

by Divya Rajagopal, Managing Editor
Founded in 1990 as a non-governmental organization, College Board was established to expand students' access to college and simplify the admissions process. In the years since, it has grown into a private corporation grossing 700 million dollars per year and has built a virtual monopoly on testing; gleaning profits from the creation and execution of the testing program and copyrighted materials.

The College Board's most infamous test, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, was introduced during the 1910s Progressive Era with the purpose of creating an index to compare students. Its intent was to eliminate test bias; unfortunately, following the boom of the testing industry and the dramatic increase in competitiveness for college admissions, the SAT has done exactly the opposite. The SAT has only reinforced punitive socioeconomic barriers and has contracted students' ability to reach the colleges they desire. These tests are no longer a measure of intelligence, and, instead, a measure of the time and materials students can contribute toward preparing.

Each year, two million high school students take the SAT.
They spend, in total, 2.5 billion dollars on test preparation materials and tutoring . This number has increased dramatically in the past decade, fueled by the growth of the tutoring market. Privately owned tutoring companies such as Kumon, Kaplan, and Princeton Review are resolute in their promises: come to us and we'll increase your score by __ points!

Whether or not they actually do so is debatable. Research into these companies has found that test prep boosts average SAT scores for students by just 30 points. Furthermore, analysts have found that large tutoring firms may issue mock tests that are harder, or more harshly graded, than actual SAT exams, to inflate their score gains. Clients of these companies and their families can sometimes pay up to $1,100 for group classes. The data are punishing: families are paying dishonest companies exorbitant amounts to increase their child's test score by only a small amount.

So, if this type of test prep isn't dramatically changing scores, then any student across the country steps onto an even playing field, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Although experts agree SAT prep courses from large firms may not boost scores as much as the firms claim to, they still agree that the SAT by in large is a test of practice. Wealthier students can pay for higher-end tutors who familiarize the students with the test and assign homework; these same students who are forced to contribute several hours a week towards studying for the exam tend to do better.

College Board has released three separate graphs showing the positive correlation between family income and test scores for the three different sections of the SAT. This trend isn't unique to the test; it just fosters the inherent socioeconomic barriers present in this nation.

Indeed, the factors impacting the income-score correlation rise beyond test prep. Family wealth plays a major part in how children are brought up and the types of students they become. Parents who themselves did well in school and pursued higher education tend to make more money; these same parents provide both intellectual and monetary advantages to their children. This is only conducive to a vicious cycle: education affects SAT scores, SAT scores affect college admissions, a college degree is crucial to income, and income impacts education.

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