SAT Changes Are a Good Start

But vast inequities between students from low- and high-income backgrounds still remain.

Lauri Novick is the executive director of Let's Get Ready, a nonprofit organization that helps 4,000 low-income students annually, in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and many small towns and rural districts throughout the Northeast.  
National Journal
Lauri Novick
Add to Briefcase
Lauri Novick
March 12, 2014, 8:25 p.m.

I listened with hope­ful en­thu­si­asm to the news and ana­lys­is last week as Col­lege Board Pres­id­ent Dav­id Cole­man an­nounced sweep­ing changes to the SAT, in­clud­ing ef­forts to help more low-in­come high school stu­dents gain ad­mis­sion to col­lege. The Col­lege Board’s moves rep­res­ent im­port­ant steps in the right dir­ec­tion, but they are small ones in our na­tion’s jour­ney to nar­row its huge achieve­ment gap.

There is an al­most 400-point gap in SAT scores between the richest and poorest stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 re­port pub­lished by the Col­lege Board. Stu­dents with low in­comes at­tend four-year uni­versit­ies at much lower rates than their high­er-in­come peers, and they are ad­mit­ted less of­ten to se­lect­ive private uni­versit­ies which of­ten of­fer more ro­bust fin­an­cial aid and sup­port ser­vices for low-in­come stu­dents than pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions.

Cole­man clearly un­der­stands the col­lege-ad­mis­sions field and how tilted it is in fa­vor of chil­dren of af­flu­ent fam­il­ies who at­tend the best schools and then have ac­cess to count­less hours of in­di­vidu­al­ized and ex­pens­ive SAT tu­tor­ing. Test scores today don’t ne­ces­sar­ily re­flect know­ledge or aptitude — they are a badge of fam­ily in­come.

The Col­lege Board’s new part­ner­ship with Khan Academy seeks to ad­dress this in­equity by of­fer­ing free SAT prac­tice and tu­tori­als on­line. This is a re­fresh­ing move.

At Let’s Get Ready, a New York City-based non­profit provid­ing SAT prep and col­lege-ad­mis­sions guid­ance to about 4,000 stu­dents throughout the North­east each year, we look for­ward to tak­ing ad­vant­age of these tools. However, we also know that tech­no­logy is not a pan­acea. Many low-in­come stu­dents and the schools they at­tend do not have easy ac­cess to high-speed In­ter­net ser­vice or com­puter labs. Some stu­dents are work­ing part-time. Oth­ers of­ten lack col­lege role mod­els or ba­sic in­form­a­tion about the ad­mis­sions and fin­an­cial-aid pro­cesses. But blend Khan’s train­ing ma­ter­i­als with a net­work of people who are there to help and you’ll see an in-class ex­per­i­ence that pro­duces even bet­ter res­ults than just an on­line course. That blend is pre­cisely what the par­ents of more af­flu­ent stu­dents have been able to pur­chase.

At Let’s Get Ready, we un­der­stand the power of SAT tu­tor­ing and prac­tice. Our pro­gram has sub­stan­tially raised SAT scores for low-in­come stu­dents. LGR stu­dents in­crease their SAT scores by an av­er­age of 115 points, in ad­di­tion to gain­ing found­a­tion­al read­ing, writ­ing, and math skills needed in col­lege.

We also know that there is no sub­sti­tute for people who care. At its core, that is what Let’s Get Ready of­fers with its an­nu­al en­gage­ment of 1,300 pas­sion­ate vo­lun­teer col­lege coaches. The or­gan­iz­a­tion trains vo­lun­teer col­lege stu­dents to tu­tor and ment­or loc­al high school stu­dents — a “near-peer” mod­el — on col­lege-ad­mis­sions guid­ance and in­tens­ive SAT prep in small group set­tings. With per­son­al­ized at­ten­tion from col­lege stu­dents who have just gone through the col­lege-ad­mis­sions pro­cess, Let’s Get Ready stu­dents feel spe­cial and uniquely em­powered.

These coaches are of­ten the very first col­lege stu­dents our pro­gram par­ti­cipants have ever met. Stu­dents re­ceive calls and texts be­fore and after every ses­sion and work in small classes of no more than five stu­dents per col­lege coach. They re­ceive en­cour­age­ment and pre­par­a­tion for a new, un­fa­mil­i­ar world of col­lege that of­ten takes them away from fam­ily and friends. It’s a mod­el that of­fers be­ne­fits to both sides. Coaches get work ex­per­i­ence, lead­er­ship train­ing, and an in­creased com­mit­ment to pub­lic ser­vice.

Con­sider Gideon Aderemi, a high school stu­dent from the Bronx. Pri­or to his ex­per­i­ence with Let’s Get Ready he had no idea how the col­lege-ap­plic­a­tion pro­cess worked. He was wor­ried about fin­an­cial aid, pay­ing tu­ition, and get­ting a high enough score on the SAT. But with Let’s Get Ready’s as­sist­ance Gideon is now a seni­or ma­jor­ing in en­gin­eer­ing at NYU Poly­tech­nic In­sti­tute. In Gideon’s own words, “Let’s Get Ready makes a dif­fer­ence in the lives of its stu­dents by mak­ing them real­ize that there is sup­port out there. That there is al­ways someone look­ing out for you.”

Along with ex­pan­ded, free ac­cess to on­line train­ing tools, the SAT’s new em­phas­is on the es­sen­tial skills stu­dents need to suc­ceed in high­er edu­ca­tion should also be lauded. Of course, it re­mains to be seen how this new test pans out, but Cole­man de­serves cred­it for try­ing to tie the test to what’s re­quired in col­lege. At Let’s Get Ready we second that ef­fort with a new Col­lege Suc­cess Ini­ti­at­ive to en­sure col­lege gradu­ation — not just ac­cept­ance or at­tend­ance.

Let’s Get Ready has more than a dec­ade of ex­per­i­ence tu­tor­ing and em­power­ing stu­dents, many of whom would nev­er have con­sidered com­plet­ing a col­lege ap­plic­a­tion or even tak­ing the SAT without a pro­gram like ours. As the share of low-in­come and minor­ity high school gradu­ates con­tin­ues to grow, ex­pand­ing this work has be­come crit­ic­al so that the next gen­er­a­tion of Amer­ic­an work­ers re­main com­pet­it­ive.

That’s why sub­stan­tial pro­gress to­ward lev­el­ing the SAT play­ing field re­quires a mul­ti­tude of bold strategies and in­ter­ven­tions — all re­quir­ing more gov­ern­ment and phil­an­throp­ic dol­lars. “There is no sil­ver bul­let” for clos­ing the achieve­ment gap writes Car­oline Hoxby, pro­fess­or of eco­nom­ics at Stan­ford Uni­versity and seni­or fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion. And it’s an is­sue that re­quires ur­gent ac­tion. In­stead of gain­ing ground, the United States has fallen from 12th to 16th in the share of adults (ages 25 to 34) hold­ing col­lege de­grees in in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Eco­nom­ic Co­oper­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment. This coun­try trails glob­al lead­ers South Korea, Canada and Ja­pan and is mired in the middle of the pack among de­veloped na­tions.

In the end, the slate of changes an­nounced by the Col­lege Board are one part of a much broad­er move­ment to do more than gauge the re­sources to which stu­dents have ac­cess. We ap­plaud the moves taken by the Col­lege Board but know there is much more to do.

As Pres­id­ent Obama said at a re­cent edu­ca­tion sum­mit we must “re­store the es­sen­tial prom­ise of op­por­tun­ity and up­ward mo­bil­ity that is at the heart of Amer­ica.” At its root, the SAT was cre­ated as a way for stu­dents to prove they were col­lege-ready re­gard­less of their back­ground or what high school they at­ten­ded. We’d like to see that mis­sion fully re­stored.

Ed­it­or’s note: The Col­lege Board spon­sors Na­tion­al Journ­al’s Next Amer­ica poll, a semi­an­nu­al look at is­sues re­lated to the chan­ging demo­graph­ic makeup of the United States. 

Cor­rec­tion: The ori­gin­al ver­sion of this op-ed stated that the United States has fallen to 16th glob­ally in the num­ber of adults hold­ing col­lege de­grees in in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions. The rank­ing is ac­tu­ally ac­cord­ing to the share of adults hold­ing col­lege de­grees in a coun­try.

 Lauri Novick is the Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or of Let’s Get Ready, a non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tion that helps 4,000 low-in­come stu­dents an­nu­ally, in New York City, Bo­ston, Phil­adelphia and many small towns and rur­al dis­tricts throughout the North­east.

HAVE AN OPIN­ION ON POLICY AND CHAN­GING DEMO­GRAPH­ICS?The Next Amer­ica wel­comes op-ed pieces that ex­plore the polit­ic­al, eco­nom­ic and so­cial im­pacts of the pro­found ra­cial and cul­tur­al changes fa­cing our na­tion, par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant to edu­ca­tion, eco­nomy, the work­force and health. Email us. Please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

What We're Following See More »
Republican Polling Shows Close Race
Roundup: National Polling Remains Inconsistent
1 hours ago

The national polls, once again, tell very different stories: Clinton leads by just one point in the IBD, Rasmussen, and LA Times tracking polls, while she shows a commanding 12 point lead in the ABC news poll and a smaller but sizable five point lead in the CNN poll. The Republican Remington Research Group released a slew of polls showing Trump up in Ohio, Nevada, and North Carolina, a tie in Florida, and Clinton leads in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia. However, an independent Siena poll shows Clinton up 7 in North Carolina, while a Monmouth poll shows Trump up one in Arizona

Colin Powell to Vote for Clinton
3 hours ago
Cook Report: Dems to Pick up 5-7 Seats, Retake Senate
5 hours ago

Since the release of the Access Hollywood tape, on which Donald Trump boasted of sexually assaulting women, "Senate Republicans have seen their fortunes dip, particularly in states like Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada and Pennsylvania," where Hillary Clinton now leads. Jennifer Duffy writes that she now expects Democrats to gain five to seven seats—enough to regain control of the chamber.

"Of the Senate seats in the Toss Up column, Trump only leads in Indiana and Missouri where both Republicans are running a few points behind him. ... History shows that races in the Toss Up column never split down the middle; one party tends to win the lion’s share of them."

Tying Republicans to Trump Now an Actionable Offense
7 hours ago

"Some Republicans are running so far away from their party’s nominee that they are threatening to sue TV stations for running ads that suggest they support Donald Trump. Just two weeks before Election Day, five Republicans―Reps. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), David Jolly (R-Fla.), John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican running for an open seat that’s currently occupied by his brother―contend that certain commercials paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee provide false or misleading information by connecting them to the GOP nominee. Trump is so terrible, these Republicans are essentially arguing, that tying them to him amounts to defamation."

Former Congressman Schock Fined $10,000
7 hours ago

Former Illinois GOP Congressman Aaron Schock "recently agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for making an excessive solicitation for a super PAC that was active in his home state of Illinois four years ago." Schock resigned from Congress after a story about his Downton Abbey-themed congressional office raised questions about how he was using taxpayer dollars.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.