SATs, Once Hailed as Ivy League Equalizers, Fall From Favor

In this strange college admissions season, fewer high schoolers are turning in that dreaded number, their SAT score.

This year, only 44% submitted SAT or ACT entrance exam results with their Common Application, which lets students apply to many schools at once. That’s down from 77% in the 2019-2020 season. Schools are suspending required testing because of the pandemic.

While many students are delighted, some counselors worry that the scarcity of scores could add to growing inequality in American higher education.

The reason: Wealthier students can game more subjective measures. They can hire consultants to sharpen their essays, and their school counselors tend to have the time and expertise to write recommendations that will catch an admissions officer’s eye.

Ayah Fakhy, the daughter of Moroccan immigrants in Los Angeles, registered for at least two SAT tests in August and the fall of 2020. But they were canceled because of site closings.

Now, the 17-year-old worries that she’ll be at a disadvantage to classmates who drove -- or even flew -- to open test centers.

“It frightened me,” said Fakhy, whose parents never attended college. “I knew I’d have to make the other parts of the application stand out.”

That concern has merit, according to Bob Sweeney, who works with a Brooklyn college access program that each year helps about 20 senior girls, most of whom are the first in their families to attend college.

“They’re at a disadvantage if there isn’t someone who can advocate for them,” said Sweeney, a former college counselor at Mamaroneck High School in Westchester.

But testing critics say the exams -- established in the early 20th Century to promote meritocracy -- have instead long been biased against poor students and members of underrepresented minority groups.

Ditching them will improve race, gender and income diversity, said Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, a nonprofit that has long pushed to eliminate the exam requirement. More than 1,300 schools have made SATs and ACTs optional for at least the current junior class, according to FairTest.

“It’s remarkable how many schools found the experience good enough to say ‘Let’s do it again,’” Schaeffer said of those dropping the requirement.