With that amount of money, I could replace a hoverboard, pay for a 60-inch flat screen TV or fly to France.
But you know what my family will be doing instead of eating bonbons in Paris? My parents are paying for an ACT prep tutor – just what I wanted for Christmas. Thanks, Mom!
I’m not trying to flaunt this money. In fact, I’m a bit ashamed that I, someone who has never believed the claim of “life’s not fair,” will be basically paying for my test score. I feel like a cheater now, someone who’s just learning how to play the test, someone who isn’t smart enough to get the score I want on my own.
But as I hear more talk around school about the ever-stressful standardized testing, I realize how commonplace paid test prep actually is. I’m not claiming every student taking the test has a tutor or has attended some kind of class, but I’m aware that I’m not the only one, nor am I the only one paying a slightly ridiculous amount of money to do this.
In 2009, the New York Times compared SAT scores to family income. The lowest income group, less than $20,000/year, had, on average, a score of about 100 points less than the $80,000-$100,000/year income group. Scores continued to spike as family income grew. On average, the score of each income bracket, which grew at a rate of $20,000, increased by 12 points each time.
Money changes scores. For $700, my tutor claims he can raise my ACT score by at least four points. I haven’t taken the test yet, but his record is good and I don’t doubt his ability to do this. Those four extra points, fed to me through tricks, tips and tons of timed practice tests, have the potential to mean a better college acceptance rate and larger scholarships.
And these scores are important. At the University of Missouri, students automatically receive $6,500 a year by getting a 31 or higher on the ACT. Though they also have to be in the top 10% of their class, a certain ACT score can almost entirely guarantee a student money.
It’s not just tutors and test-prep classes that fall under the category of how income can affect a test score, though. Family income generally affects the quality of life as well, and when one isn’t worried about getting enough food to eat, they’re more inclined to be able to focus on school.
This can actually be a relevant piece of information in the Shawnee Mission School District, especially when comparing test scores to amount of kids that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches in SMSD. According to the KSDE (Kansas State Department of Education), in 2014-2015, 9.37% of kids at East are approved for these lunches. At West, 45.28% of the student body qualifies. And, in 2015, according to KSDE, East’s average ACT score was 25.4, and West’s was 22.7. While that may not be direct cause-and-effect, I definitely see correlation. And it isn’t fair.
Whether it be tutoring, test-prep classes or just growing up in a privileged environment, it seems to me that standardized test scores are linked to family income. Colleges shouldn’t continue to base college acceptance on these scores.
Luckily, some schools have begun to recognize the correlation between standardized test scores and family income, and how they don’t reflect intelligence. Schools like Ithaca College and George Washington University – that is to say, mostly private, liberal arts colleges – have gone “test-optional” in their admission process in the past two years, meaning ACT and SAT scores aren’t a required part of the admissions process. According to the New York Times, Wake Forest University went test-optional in 2008 and saw a 4% increase in underrepresented minorities six years later.
However, many public schools, like University of Missouri, are still giving out money for high test scores. The Ivy League schools have yet to make any move to go test optional, and neither have any big names like Stanford, CalTech or Duke.
So, big name schools are still relying on data that seems to be skewed by socioeconomic status, and I know I’ll still be feeling slightly guilty about the way I got my ACT score if I do attend one of them.
It’s up to us to recognize this flawed system for what it truly is. Go ahead, shell out the $700 for a tutor. Realize you’re playing into this system though, and try to keep the injustice of this system in mind for later, perhaps when you’re granted the power to change it.