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Last week, the College Board announced changes to the structure of the SAT designed to narrow America’s education gap by addressing ways that wealthier students manipulate the standardized test. An email sent out to members of the College Board stated that the organization will begin redesigning "the SAT so that it better meets the needs of students, schools and colleges at all levels.” We are heartened that the College Board is shedding light on the biases that assist high-income students. That is why the proposed Khan Academy courses hold great promise in partially democratizing standardized test prep. It appears impractical to completely eliminate the SAT, but we urge admissions departments to weigh standardized test scores in the context of students’ socioeconomic status.

The College Board explained some of the changes it will implement on the SAT by 2016: The new test will emphasize vocabulary needed for college-level critical analysis over obscure words, offer students the option of completing the formerly-mandatory essay section and remove the penalty for guessing wrong rather than leaving the answer blank. Essentially, the changes are designed to prioritize logic and are “intended to make SAT scores more accurately mirror the grades a student gets in school.”

By making these changes the College Board is recognizing that income rather than academic ability is driving SAT test scores. “The culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country,” said David Coleman, president of the College Board. “It may not be our fault, but it is our problem,” he added. Still, there is only so much that the College Board can do to change the current system. While the SAT revisions attempt to remove many of the tricks that dominate the current test, loopholes will always exist. Students from wealthy families will continue to have a leg up due to their access to expensive tutors who know the tricks of the test. Further, for some, preparation for standardized exams is much more than a 10-week prep course: wealthier students are more likely to have had access to a variety of resources and enrichment since birth. Khan Academy may not be able to compensate for all these advantages.

We recognize that standardized tests serve an important function in the admissions process at institutions of higher education. Public and private high schools around the country teach vastly different curricula and use a variety of grading curves. There is merit in having a test like the SAT, where “everyone who takes it is being measured against the same yardstick.” It enables a student in Kansas to be considered alongside a student from a well-known New England prep school. Further, selective universities can identify high-performing kids from under-represented areas where they may not have strong presences. The SAT (or ACT) is not without merit, since we need some way to sift through our diverse, national cohort of students.

Rather than advocate for the elimination of the SAT, a suggestion that is both impractical and unwanted, the University should consider standardized test scores within the context of an applicant’s background. Admissions officers should, of course, also pay attention to teacher recommendations, creative essays and extracurricular activities on students’ applications. Further, we could do more to reward students who held jobs or took care of family members while in high school, rather than those who participated in time-intensive and often expensive extracurricular activities. Brown is an environment in which “smarts” are not enough — it takes a self-motivated, creative, curious and open-minded student to take advantage of Brown’s open curriculum and unique atmosphere. These are all important characteristics for admissions officers to consider, and they have little bearing on SAT scores.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to


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