Last week, there was an interesting development from The College Board who disclosed that there is a positive correlation between test preparation (using Khan Academy, which we highly encourage our students to use) and increased scores on the SAT. Multi-million dollar companies have been built on this premise. The President of the College Board states, “Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is free and personalized, and we see students achieving substantial score gains.” Continues President David Coleman, “The SAT has now become an invitation for students to practice and grow.” These statements are in stark contrast to those of the E.T.S. leader in the 1970s when then-President Turnbull noted, “the existence of the coaching schools is nothing more than the triumph of hope over reality.” Yet here we are over 40 years later with a nearly 400 million dollar test prep industry. To go even further back to the 1950s, a College Board report came out noting, “If the board’s test can be regularly beaten through coaching, then the board is itself discredited.” Did the board just discredit itself? Read on…

I suspect there are several motivations for the College Board’s announcement at this moment. The Redesigned SAT has endured heavy criticism, and the jury continues to be out on whether it’s a “good” test or not. Critics suggested that the drastic overhaul was rushed and that the test specs did not accurately portray what was evaluated on the actual test. One of the purported goals of the New SAT was to reduce the achievement gap, which suggests that standardized tests favor those who can spend hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on test preparation. And with these high stake tests, improved and higher scores mean more access and admittance to more competitive colleges.

What’s troublesome is that the language in the College Board’s announcement insinuates that this correlation was not true in the past and that the “new” test is the reason why there is a measurable increase with practice. As Robert Schaeffer of the non-profit organization www.fairtest.org notes in an email, there are flaws with the study the College Board cites as evidence. Why were only students who used Khan Academy studied? What role does motivation play in the study? And did the students who used Khan Academy utilize any other test prep resources?  

The silver lining is that this admittance recognizes what many schools that have gone test-optional have been suggesting: the standardized tests used in admissions decisions do favor those who have resources. Other schools which continue to require scores recognize that there still needs to be a test that can compare a student in the metropolitan NYC area with one from, say, South Dakota. But these schools also caution that grades and other factors should be taken into consideration for admission.

What does this all mean? Well, we hope it just encourages our students to work harder since there is now a study which supports what we’ve been saying for a quite a while (even as recently a few weeks ago in a blog we published). Practice-whether you utilize free resources or partner with a tutor-pays off. And these tests are not going anywhere for a while. You can choose to forego the testing process altogether though and seek out some of these test-optional schools. In fact, James Madison University is the latest to join this list which continues to grow, and given the recent controversial statements from the College Board, we only see it getting longer.