Written By Jasmine D. Gary
Earlier this year, the College Board (parent of the SAT), announced several changes to its exam and services as part of a redesign effort. For those who qualify to take the SAT for free, College Board is doling out up to four college application fee waivers.
For some students, standardized college-entrance exams are a barrier to college because of costs, test anxiety, or lack of academic preparation. Advanced Placement (AP) courses and other higher level courses such as Calculus and other high level English language arts courses, are viewed as courses that can prepare students for higher levels of course work, similar to what they will see in college. Students that enroll in such courses gain necessary skills and knowledge that propel them into more rigorous learning. However, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection, Black and Latino students make up 37% of students in U.S. high schools but only 27% of students enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement (AP) course. Students not only need to have access to such rigorous courses, but be supported to enroll and complete such courses if they aspire to attend college.
But even if they are prepared academically, they may feel anxiety about sitting for a long testing period to complete a test that determines such an important part of their future. But still, if they feel they can brave sitting for the test, being able to pay the testing fee may also be an issue.
Recognizing the financial barrier of college entrance exams for low-income students, college entrance programs and organizations have begun offering participants fee waivers for exams. However, the road to enrolling and attending college doesn’t stop after sitting for an exam or completing an application. Students must also submit that application, usually with a fee ranging from $50 to $150 per application. For most low-income students, this one application may pose a challenge for them and their family budget. They earned good grades, took the exam, scored well, completed a college application to a university that has their program of interest, but now what? This should not be the end point for any student. This goes against the notion that one will be able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and use their education as a means out of poverty.
I commend the College Board for taking this bold step to improve outcomes for low-income students. The College Board’s redesign, in my opinion, is call for state and local administrators and educators to step up to the plate and help all students, especially low-income students to excel. At the end of their high school careers, low-income students can have a waiver to take the SAT and apply to four post secondary institutions of their choice. The barriers to applying to post secondary education would no longer be financial. The only barrier would be academic preparation for the SAT through rigorous course work, instructional supports for those students in need, and access to AP courses. State officials, education administrators, and district level administrators and educators would need to ensure that the academic and social-emotional needs of all students, especially low-income students, are addressed so that they may have the educational experiences that would enable them to use this opportunity. This means higher standards, instructional supports for English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities (SwD), and most importantly, innovative ways to allow teachers to maximize their time with students and in schools.
Up to this point in this post, my mind was optimistic with the idea that more young people would be able to see their college dreams come to life. Unfortunately, after I drafted this post the residents of Ferguson, Missouri saw a different picture of possibilities for their youth. Michael Brown, a recent high school graduate set to start college at the end of the summer, was fatally shot to death by a police officer. He was unarmed. My heart is very sad about this and the many incidents of police brutality and gun violence. What good is it if our youth have great opportunities but their chance of receiving them gets cut short by such acts of violence?