Monday, March 7, 2016

The Admissions Gatekeeper- Standardized Scores Determining College Admission

I still remember back in my junior year of high school, every Tuesday for a month, I would be sitting at my desk at home having a video conference with a random person from the other side of the country asking me critical reading questions from the passage I just read. These were ACT Prep courses that my mom paid a lot for me have. I would log in and have an hour or two long study session with some grad student who was running classes from their dorm at an undisclosed college. I felt I was a very strong student. My grades were good and I worked hard. But sometimes the questions on the practice tests would require an entirely different way of thinking than I was used to. The questions would be so complex and unlike any test I had taken in school.

 I would always dread taking these classes, but I went into the ACT at least having an idea of what to expect. I attribute being prepare for the test to taking these courses. This made me think, what do the student who cannot afford a sophisticated tutoring program, like the one my mom paid for, do to prepare for their SAT/ACT? 

It is no secret that standardized tests, like the SAT/ACT, are used to determine a student's intellect and essentially whether or not that student would potentially be a good addition to the incoming college class. Colleges want students that will perform well at their institution, and they can use standardized test scores to make that determination. The justice issue here is that students who have a good educational background and that have access to resources to prepare them for these exams are more likely to score higher on them. This means that the tests are basically biased against students who come from low-income areas and backgrounds. Those students are less likely to be prepared to take the same exam students all over the country are taking. Think about it, a student who is growing up in a low-income area is not very likely to attend a school that has the resources to help them prepare for the test. That student probably has no idea what that exam is going to be like. Now, that student can go online or check out Prep Guides at the library or even go into the exam with out preparing and score well on the exam. And there are students who pay for expensive Prep courses and still perform poorly. But if we look at the big picture, it is more likely for a student who grew up in a strong educational system and had the resource of a SAT/ACT tutor, who's job is to be an expert in preparing students for the tests, to go into the test more prepared. 

So to be blunt, student with money are more likely to get into college. I know that statement is not true, but when you break it down it makes sense. There are scholarships and financial aid for students to pay tuition, but that won't mean anything if the student doesn't get into college in the first place. It is unjust to pander to students that have the resources to be prepared for these tests. But we need to look at the big picture again. A student with a college education is more likely to find a future high salaried career. Most kids go to college for that future career. But again, most low income students attend a school in a low income school district that doesn't have many financial resources so students are not provided with the foundation they need to compete with students in a higher income school district that has resources available to them. Is one 5 hour long test of multiple choice questions the best way to determine a student's future? I am very fortunate to have had tutoring to prepare me for the test and to have attended a school system that I feel gave me the foundation to perform well. Not everyone is as fortunate.
I strongly believe that in order to stop an injustice, action needs to be taken. I believe that the first step is to start the conversation about the college admissions process. This conversation can start at the local level with Student Government leaders and Student Life staff. The conversation can then be taken to the admissions office. I believe that there are some key questions that need to be asked in regard to this issue. How telling are standardized tests scores of a student's future performance at a college? What do colleges, or this college in particular, look for in a student? What methods are used and what information is needed to evaluate a student applying for this college? Overall we need to find out what colleges are looking for in a student and determine the best way to evaluate that student with out bias. The way that we as students in Comparative Justice can help is by recognizing, starting, and continuing the conversation about the college admissions process. 

Test scores make or break a student's chances of getting into most colleges today. Now some colleges, like The George Washington University, that are actually straying away from using standardized tests in the admissions process. There are also essays, short answer questions, grade point average (GPA), and resumes among the arsenal admissions counselors employ to select potential students. But for the most part, scores are still a determining factor. Students with a low-income do have the resources to pay for and attend college, but in this justice report I am identifying the injustice of those students not being prepared to take the exam to even be accepted to a college. Income is not an indicator of work ethic or the character of a student and it should not be a factor in offering a student admission to a college. All students should have an equal opportunity to get into college, and one test score should not be the determining factor.

-Bradley Ingram

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