Editorial: Prep classes ruin testing equality


Avery Degenhardt

The culture around standardized testing has changed since high-priced test prep has become available.

The Red Ledger Staff

Known well by high school students, the ACT and SAT boast a harmless mission of “helping people achieve education and workplace success” by providing a “comprehensive assessment” of student preparedness for college. While the ACT and SAT tests themselves may not be completely at fault, the culture surrounding the standardized tests has become highly problematic as getting into college becomes increasingly more difficult.

Think of it this way; the ACT and SAT are essentially high-speed trains that send students off to college. The problem is, with the proliferation of students using expensive prep resources, many test-takers now do not have an equal shot at affording a ticket.

After first being conceived by Stanley Kaplan in 1938, ACT and SAT tutoring now generate an industry-wide average of $840.4 million annually. Popular test prep giants Princeton Review and Kaplan both charge anywhere from $800-$1,600 for their lofty test resources. Although the tutoring made a marginal difference in students’ scores in 2015, 30 points on the SAT and one point on the ACT, colleges were noted in a report by the The National Association for College Admission Counseling to possibly make “inappropriate” distinctions between applications with small score differences, “making even minimal test score gains potentially important in those decisions.” Paying high-dollars for tutoring gets students on the steamroller to college. However, test prep tools give unfair advantages to wealthier families.

The SAT and ACT were created to be a fair measure of student readiness for college. The train to college is supposed to be open for all passengers, but now with the increase in students feeling required to use test prep in order to get into their top school choices, the availability of getting “tickets” for the train has been rendered biased in favor of the wealthy. Students from wealthier families consistently score higher on the SAT than students from low-income backgrounds. Data from the College Board has displayed that test-takers from families receiving annual incomes of $20,000 or less receive lower average scores than test-takers from families making $200,00 or more annually. Test-takers have become more and more dependent on taking test prep due to college competitiveness increasing in recent years, and the test prep industry is expected to grow an average of 4 percent a year for the next 10 years. This will ultimately leave lower-income students in the dust as it becomes increasingly difficult for those test-takers to achieve scores comparable to that of their wealthier peers.

In order for the SAT and ACT to successfully reach their missions of “college success,” some serious changes will have to be made regarding the capitalism of the test prep industry on its vulnerable suspects. Among these changes may be a reformation of free test prep like that of Khan Academy’s self-paced courses or the SAT’s free prep service. While these services are certainly helpful, their effectiveness on improving scores is not comparable to that of more expensive tutoring. ACT and College Board  will have to reevaluate their methods if they want to succeed in the future, as 850 colleges currently make the tests optional for applicants, and more schools are adding themselves to the list each year.
Ultimately, due to increasing college competitiveness and rising costs of test prep, the ability to hop on the “train to college” has been shifted in favor of the wealthy. In order to be accepted into favorable schools, students should not have to pay hundreds of dollars on tutoring that many cannot afford. The ACT and SAT steamrollers are not providing an equal opportunity for student preparedness for college, and if the standardized tests want their mission to last into the future, the ticket prices to board the train to university must be decreased.