Every so often a piece of news breaks and reminds us that this nation’s supposed systemic progress has largely been a charade. Was anybody surprised to discover that wealthy families have been bribing universities to admit their mediocre kids? No, because we already knew that secondary education largely bolsters race and class inequality.
It was shocking to discover that parents were paying up to an alleged $6.5 million on admissions. Still, in so many other ways, it was already obvious that the system was rigged. A certain recent U.S. President with an Ivy League education and penchant for painting dogs comes to mind.
Aside from demonstrating the outrageous number of athletic coaches and counselors at prestigious universities who care more about personal bonuses than equity, the recent scandal has again brought up the shortcomings of standardized testing.
Universities have been using standardized testing like the SAT and ACT for over a century to determine students’ “college readiness” in a uniform fashion, rather than relying high schools’ varied assessments of aptitude. The IQ-style test, as opposed to the original College Board’s in-depth research assignment, purportedly quantifies an individual’s ability to learn and reason with new material, rather than the knowledge acquired. On paper, it would seem they have the potential to create access for students who didn’t have the privilege of a college-level private school education, but have a higher level of reasoning.
Unfortunately, tests like these have always been about playing the game: if you know the rules and are able to sit the four hours required to play, you have a shot at entrance into sought-after Universities and access to financial aid. Seems equitable, right?
However, there are a slew of inequitable factors. The exam itself can be cost-prohibitive. There are major cultural biases woven into its framework, despite the SAT’s recent revamp and years of the College Board responding to criticism. The test relies heavily on elitist language, putting affluent students with college-educated parents at a massive advantage. And like any game, there is strategy, like the problem-solving tricks that can be purchased from high-end tutors.
The astounding edge to this whole controversy, however, is that if those classist elements don’t give enough of an advantage to wealthy students, their tests can simply be falsified. It seems just a bit of palm-greasing is all it takes for proctors to look the other way while professionals impersonate students and complete tests for them. Or that for a nominal fee, a medical doctor will write a false time extension recommendation, abusing the allowances made for students with disabilities.
People can be counted on to make absurd concessions for money. There are just too many individuals in the process of standardized testing with no integrity to inspire any confidence in its ability to level any sort playing field.
Imagine if college readiness was based on a student’s potential to dive wholly into a subject and think in a truly critical manner. Or if schools searched for students who passionately engaged with a unique area of study and were genuinely interested in expanding their fields. At present it seems that the most important qualifier for University acceptance is how well a student can eliminate 3 out of 4 answers to inane questions, or pay someone else to do it for them.
Do kids whose parents are willing to spend half a million dollars on their acceptance to college even want to study? Or need a degree to qualify for jobs that will clearly, inevitably, be passed down through the chain of nepotism? Education has the potential to open doors for students who are genuinely interested in challenging their own ideas and those that inform society. It has the potential to generate social revolution, even. But when academia is populated largely by those with power, who brings the incentive for change?