Seven times a year, students across the country sit for the College Board’s SAT exam on a Saturday morning. But, Wednesday, October 16, seniors at West Contra Costa Unified School District got a special, extra shot at the exam given at their home school during regular class time. And, their test registration fees were subsidized by tax dollars.
A small minority of other college-bound students around the nation will also have the opportunity to take an additional weekday test if their school participates in College Board’s School Day Testing. Is it fair for College Board to give some students more testing opportunities under beneficial “home turf” conditions? Is it fair for taxpayers to pay for the SAT? And why should students be compelled to sit for an exam they may not want or need?
Without fanfare, College Board has rolled out "SAT School Day" bypassing notice from a public already keenly aware of elitism in test prep and college affordability. The irony is while offering this option only to a fraction of test-takers, College Board maintains that weekday testing creates greater access for students under optimal test conditions. Their website states, “SAT on a school day reduces test-day stress because students are in a familiar location with familiar staff. Increased participation in the college going process sends a powerful message of a school’s commitment to prepare all students for the next step.” If School Day Testing is really the best milieu and reduces the notion of elitism in college admissions, then College Board should give every student the same opportunity.
Why then is College Board offering the weekday test in selected schools? Because exclusivity is coveted, and College Board is profiting.
West Contra Costa is hoping to encourage more of their largely low-income student population to attend four-year colleges, and this is a laudable goal. But to participate in School Test Day, the district is required to share the cost, putting the burden of the College Board’s fees on taxpayers. College Board’s conditions also require all seniors in a school to participate, so the District sent a letter to families claiming the SAT is valuable for everyone, including community college-bound students, although they offer their own placement exams at no cost. Those students who already had taken the SAT or the ACT (College Board’s rival college entrance exam) were not told that the California Education Code allows them an exemption from this or any standardized test. In fact, according to Fairtest.org, 14 of the 50 top liberal arts colleges listed in US News and World Report rankings don’t require any standardized test exam for admission.
College Board shouldn’t be cutting deals with individual school districts to force taxpayers to subsidize unnecessary testing or to pump up their competition against the ACT for a greater share of the test-taking market. In 2012, College Board created a media tidal wave when it quietly offered an exclusive summer SAT test to wealthy students attending a program at Amherst. Public outrage caused College Board to retreat and cancel the exclusive test date. And school districts like West Contra Costa, even with the best intentions, shouldn’t be promoting exclusive testing.
While there is much that is unfair in the race to college, College Board and school districts should be striving for equity.