Will SAT changes lead to even playing field?

ByCraig Melvin

Watch the clip at mcnbc.com >

Note: This is excerpted from a longer segment about changes to the SAT.

CRAIG MELVIN: Across this country today, thousands—perhaps tens of thousands—of stressed-out teenagers have just completed an age-old rite of passage: they took their SATs. For about 1.6 million high school students, it remains a critical step to getting into college. But now, that test that so many of detested—that test is getting an overhaul. […] Is this the overhaul that so many have been calling for for years? […] Jane Martinez Dowling is with KIPP Academy, a charter school system.


CRAIG MELVIN: What do you think, Jane? Are these changes going to lead—is it going to lead to some sort of dramatic effect? Will there be some sort of dramatic effect as a result of these changes, for students?

JANE MARTINEZ DOWLING: We’re certainly hopeful of that. At KIPP, we work with low-income students primarily, around the country. And as everyone has talked about, the SAT test has—can potentially be biased to students who have more resources.

CRAIG MELVIN: But won’t that always be the case?

JANE MARTINEZ DOWLING: So, the College Board, with their “opportunity agenda,” I think that they’re really making an effort to open up a gateway for all students to be able to compete to go to college, and then to be successful in college.

CRAIG MELVIN: Major criticisms, as you just alluded to there, is that families who have more money have more of an advantage. There was this clever look here—Wonkblog, Washington Post. […] Students from families earning more than $200,000 a year average a combined score of 1714 out of 2400, while students from families earning under $20,000 a year average a combined score of 1326. Is that a disparity—when you look at that graph—is that a disparity that’s rooted merely in wealth, or is there more at work there?

JANE MARTINEZ DOWLING: So, there is definitely a disparity. And the work that we do at KIPP—particularly my group, the KIPP Through College group—we are very focused on the fact that there is a disparity all across the college access and college completion portion of the work. So, is it income-based, or is it based on the academics that students who have more resources get? It’s both. And one of the things that the College Board is trying to do with this initiative, which is really helpful to us, is really give access to kids and open up the doors for students who don’t have the same kinds of resources for the test prep. So the Khan Academy initiative that they’re doing, being able to provide the free online tutoring—all of those pieces are huge for our students to be able to just become more familiarized with the test even better.

CRAIG MELVIN: That’s a big deal. What I think a lot of folks don’t realize about the Khan Academy component is that you will be able to watch these online video courses, rewind, pause—I mean, it’s like having your own personalized SAT tutor in your home.


CRAIG MELVIN: Jane, you’ve seen a number of students over the years get into college, go through college, and we know that the best—typically the best way to gauge a child’s success in college is not through standardized testing, but through high school transcripts. I mean, that’s typically the best way to gauge. Why do we still do this? Why do we still play this little standardized testing game?

JANE MARTINEZ DOWLING: Well, the test is part of an overall assessment process and toolkit. Standardized tests have historically been a metric that is used to gauge how all students are doing, right? But the research shows, like you said, that high school GPA correlates very much to college persistence and completion. But colleges still use it as a metric. We have seen with our own students that, for some students, it very much correlates to how well they do in college; for some students, not. So everyone takes it, and we are very supportive and encouraging of our students to be very, very familiar with the test, and also, when they’re doing their matching process and looking at their different schools, ensuring that their test scores and their high school scores and what they’re interested in preferences really aligns with where they’re going to school. Because that, actually, is what makes the most impact: the match.