Standardizing educational classism

The ACT's new policy on test retakes gives wealthier test takers unfair advantage

Especially during junior year, students are trying to get high scores on their standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. Now, following some changes, it might have become easier — for some students.

Starting September 2020, students will be able to retake sections of the ACT, without retaking the entire test, to improve their scores. There will be no limits on the amount of times students can retake the sections of the test. 

Allowing students to retake sections instead of retaking the entire test makes it easier for a student to not only improve their score, but get their preferred score. Don’t get me wrong — being able to retest on certain sections without needing to retake the entire test is an amazing opportunity; however, admissions experts say that this would most likely apply to wealthier students, according to Education Dive, further giving a disadvantage to students who can not afford extensive test prep for standardized tests. This change doesn’t benefit much if students have the same barriers that prevent them from heavily preparing. If the game of college was already unfair, this just tipped the scales all the way in favor of affluent schools and students.

A record number of colleges and universities have made submitting a student’s standardized test scores optional, according to The Washington Post, due to the fact that standardized tests are not a good indicator of a student’s success in college. Students coming from wealthier families typically take intensive and expensive courses to perform better on the ACT (and/or SAT), while other students — who can’t afford to pay for prep courses —  receive lower scores, which obviously doesn’t benefit them during the admission and aid process.  

I understand that the intention. Ideally, the ACT’s new policies would allow everyone — wealthy or not — to raise their ACT score. Yet the reality is, wealthier students, with more money available to them, continue receiving extensive prep courses for every section of the test, which is not evening the odds for students who don’t have access to these resources. There’s already a problem with standardized tests giving an upper-hand to wealthier students, so creating additional retake opportunities for students will further escalate the problem. This might only further widen “the gap between under-resourced and better-resourced students,” according to Annie Reznik, the executive director of the Coalition for College. 

Other than in the instance that a student did poorly on one section of the ACT but still received an overall good score, retaking the test would, indeed, be ideal. However, the purpose of the test is to demonstrate college readiness, and allowing students to retake their exams until their hearts are content doesn’t exactly mirror the actual “college experience”. 

Rather than focusing on “improving” the conditions of standardized testing, rather than eliminating it completely, colleges should instead place more emphasis on GPA and extracurricular activities because they reveal more about a student’s work ethic and commitment over the years than standardized test scores. High school GPA and graduation rates have a much stronger positive correlation than test scores and graduation rates, according to Forbes. For this reason, we shouldn’t continue to use a faulty system. 

There should either be more high-quality and affordable preparation courses available to all students, especially low-income ones, or the elimination of the ACT and standardized tests occurs. At least then, items such as GPA and extracurricular activities will have greater value placed on them.