Editorial: Standardized tests were an unfair admissions advantage for the wealthy

CWU has joined the other public universities in the state in announcing that standardized admissions tests will now be optional for incoming students.

In the announcement, Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Michelle DenBeste said students would not be penalized for not submitting test scores during the admission process.

“We are joining our counterparts across the state to strongly support a more holistic approach to admissions that focuses on the whole student,” DenBeste said. “Instead of primarily basing our admissions on test scores, we will take into consideration other factors including diversity, leadership, academics, extracurricular activities, and school and community engagement.”

These tests were a barrier to student success that unfairly benefitted those from wealthy families.

Students from wealthier families tended to perform better on the SATs, since they were able to afford more expensive testing prep as well as the test itself. During the 2018-2019 school year, the cost of the full SAT was $64.50, while it cost $26 to register for the ACT and $22 for each test.

Reporting on the discrepancies, The Wall Street Journal said like other aspects of American life, the wealthy were given unfair advantages.

“Given the widespread use of the SAT in college admissions, the implications are obvious: Not only are the wealthiest families best equipped to pay for college, their kids on average are more likely to post the sort of scores that make admissions easy,” The Wall Street Journal wrote.

According to the Washington Post, in 2014 “students from families earning more than $200,000 a year average a combined score of 1,714, while students from families earning under $20,000 a year average a combined score of 1,326.”

A study from Inside Higher Ed showed that low-income students performed worse in all three sections of the test than higher-income students. For example, in the reading section, a student from a family that made less than $20,000 a year averaged a score of 433, while a student from a family that makes more than $200,000 a year averaged a score of 570.

According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, the gap in scores among high- and low-income students was twice as large as the one between African American and white students.

And a lot was riding on the results. Those scores could decide whether a student could attend a four-year university or not. Colleges would admit students if they met a threshold score on the ACTs and SATs. Students who scored too low were denied admission to these colleges and denied the benefits a degree from that school could bring.

This decision was a step in making higher education more attainable, and the application process more equitable for students.