Will the New SAT Boost College Prospects for Black Students?

Black students have always performed poorly on standardized tests, but these tests are not necessarily the best measurement of college success.

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Today many institutions are liberalizing their use of standardized tests for admissions. Across the landscape of institutions of higher education, the nonuse of standardized tests for admissions appears to be a luxury and liberty of the most selective institutions, such as Harvard and Stanford, which, to be fair, can select high scores without explicitly using a cutoff. The problem, however, is that they can also select low scores (e.g., for legacies, second-language math whizzes, donors’ children and athletes) at will because of a socially ascribed status. Elite institutions have the privilege of subjectivity, while other institutions must recoil under a cloak of objectivity.

Because of the serious concerns about the predictive validity of the SAT and ACT, the black community should not entertain social commentary that links low test scores to any functional impairment of the race. How seriously an individual should take the ACT or SAT has nothing to do with the collective of the race and has everything to do with the individual test taker’s goals.

In the current higher education landscape, there are tangible benefits to achieving a high score on the ACT or SAT. However, there are very prestigious universities, high-quality state universities and a broad range of institutions of higher education that routinely accept students who do well in high school but do not have a high SAT or ACT score.

The priority of every black family should be to teach their children how to study hard and make good grades in school, as well as to advocate for classes and learning experiences that are consistent with a college-preparatory curriculum. Currently, there is an achievement gap for grades (pdf): The average graduating high school GPA for black students is 2.7, and the corresponding GPA for white students is a 3.1. That gap reflects many concerns that need to be addressed, but these concerns are often overshadowed by debates about test-score gaps, which become convoluted because of corporate investment in standardized tests.

In addition, any consideration of the gap in SAT and ACT scores or GPAs between black students and white students should be measured with the same discretion applied to the GPA gap between males and females. This gap has led to a quiet quota system that mostly benefits white males applying to elite institutions that are trying to achieve gender parity. Henry Broaddus, admissions dean of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., defended the need for admissions policies that accept males with lower GPAs by asserting, “It’s not the College of Mary and Mary; it’s the College of William and Mary.” If we offer the same thoughtfulness to students of color as we do to (mostly white) males, one day it can become the College of Hakim, Javier, Mary, Natalia, Nia and William.

Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., is an author, researcher and educational scholar best known for his publications on academic success among school-age black males and debunking myths about the black community. He is currently on temporary leave from his academic post at Howard University. Follow him on Twitter.