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If There Were No SAT or ACT

Effect on Students:

  • Pressure to perform on the SAT/ACT will be replaced by pressure to perform in other areas. Students would need to get straight A’s and get as many 5’s on AP exams as possible. The latter is actually not a bad thing: that could raise the quality of education for those students who pursue it. But, ironically, it’s much, much more work to secure 5’s on multiple AP exams than to score a high SAT/ACT score (one good indicator of this: those students with multiple 5’s usually need dramatically less SAT/ACT prep because they are so proficient in fundamental skills that the SAT/ACT are not a great hurdle). But, if parents, students, and educators lament the pressure upon students to perform on the SAT/ACT, then we would also have to acknowledge that this pressure would likely not decrease and might actually intensify because students would then be expected to perform well all the time, in all classes, and achieve to a very, very high level on as many AP classes as possible.
  • They would miss out on practicing a lot of the fundamental skills that they need to succeed in college and in life. The SAT and ACT test some of the most important skills (unfortunately some of these are not taught or emphasized in most high schools, such as grammar and rhetorical skills). Preparation for the SAT and ACT is an opportunity for students to learn, re-learn, and/or hone these fundamental skills. The ability to effectively communicate is one of the most important skills – and both the SAT and, in particular, the ACT do a good job of testing this skill through their Reading and Grammar sections.
  • Students will lose the most objective measure that they have to demonstrate their hard-work and achievement to colleges. The most deserving students will be less likely to get into the better colleges. Every class they take in high school will have to be toward the calculated step of AP exam scores because they will lose the general measure of their achievement that would have been provided by the SAT and ACT. Education, then, will be even more about utility, not curiosity and discovery. Students will not be able to follow their passions, because they will need to rack up as many 5’s on AP exam scores as possible.
  • There will be less margin for error. Students only take AP exams once. And the difference between a 4 and a 5 looks massive (even though students at the low end of a 5 and at the high end of a 4 could have almost identical scores and both they and colleges would never know that their scores were close). Thus, if all the pressure is on AP scores, students will be under enormous pressure to secure 5’s on their exams and will have to overprepare for these exams to eliminate any chance that they will get a 4 (since they won’t be able to re-take the test, even if they’re sick that day or had a bad day – unlike the SAT and ACT which they can take multiple times).
  • Because AP scores are only graded out of 5, students will not be able to effectively differentiate themselves from their peers by harder work. Both the student with a 95% and the student with an 80% on the AP exam might get a 5, but the student would be unable to highlight their greater proficiency and harder work to colleges because both would receive a “5” on the exam.

Effect on high schools:

  • A race to the bottom: private schools and great public schools might empty out. If a great education results in a “B” average, then with no objective criteria by which to measure students, a test blind college would likely admit an “A” student from a mediocre school over a “B” student from a better school.
  • There is already immense pressure on teachers to give students high grades. Multiply that by 10. A parent is unlikely to want to send their kids to a great school if the student doesn’t get A’s at that school. What would be the point of spending $150,000 or more on high school (either directly in private school tuition or in taxes in a high tax municipality) if doing so results in prospects for lesser quality college? Any parent sending their kids to a quality school (and probably any parent generally) will want their kids to get straight A’s regardless of merit and simply because of the impact on their child’s success if the child doesn’t get straight A’s. But then everyone will have A’s at these high quality education schools (which is already happening at most where the average grade is an A minus). This will intensify an already great problem: rampant grade inflation.
  • High schools will also likely be held less accountable for the quality of education they provide. With only state testing (which is often not mandatory and/or not taken seriously), the objectivity of comparing educational quality at different schools would likely decline. In particular, it will be more or less impossible to compare schools from different states that have different state testing.
  • Schools that provide a great education would need to try and distinguish themselves in other ways; primarily through AP exams. Although these are fairly inaccurate measures of achievement (given that they are only on a 5 point scale so there is a very wide spread of achievement in any given score and there is no ability to tell if a student with a 4 was one question away from a 5 or vice versa), they would then be the only objective measures of achievement that colleges could use. Imagine if even these objective criteria were banned? (By the logic of banning the SAT and ACT, one can see why they would be: wealthy students probably have higher AP exam scores in tandem with higher SAT/ACT scores – not to mention that, while the SAT and ACT are offered to all students, AP classes are not even offered or many fewer are offered in less high quality school districts. Thus, the same reasons to ban SAT/ACT scores would likely only be intensified when applied to AP exam scores.)
  • If AP exams too were not considered, then high schools would transition to managing the parental and student “experience” (since a good experience could be rewarded with higher enrollment) and abandon adherence to high quality, which could not be measured and thus could not be rewarded.
  • The overall impact:
    • More grade inflation
    • Parents would likely locate their kids to where their kids could get straight A’s
    • Less accountability from schools for the quality of education they provide

Effect on Parents:

  • Parents will likely move to where their kids can get straight A’s.
  • They will have much less ability to assess the quality of their children’s education and if their children are working hard in school. With current grade inflation, already parents often find out very late (from SAT/ACT scores) that their children were not excelling nearly to the degree that they had imagined. When a straight “A” student gets an 18 on his or her first ACT, this is often a very brutal and cold dose of reality to parents: their child’s “A’s” didn’t mean what they thought they did. But, they had never questioned their child’s education because their child kept bringing home straight “A’s.” By the time junior year comes and the straight “A” student gets an 18, it is often hard to go back and repair the damage: teaching/re-teaching students basic Algebra, for instance, to get their Math score up. If this dose of reality never comes, however, then parents and students could be in the position of never being able to understand a student’s level of achievement and how this will impact their life chances.

Effect on Colleges:

  • If grade inflation increases and “B” students disperse to other schools to where they can get “A’s”, then colleges will find it much more difficult to select the quality of applicant that they are searching for.
  • If colleges are less able to accurately select the quality of applicant for which they are searching, then the quality of the college will likely decline. Even if there is too wide of a spread of knowledge and ability in classrooms, the quality of education is likely to decline because the professors then have a harder time teaching to the “average” – teaching to an average that doesn’t accurately teach to as many students in a class makes education less helpful to the best students and more inaccessible to the most struggling students. Education is most successful when its rigor is paired correctly with students looking for and prepared for that level of rigor.
  • As accuracy of applicant selection and quality of education decline, employers will look less and less to school name and likely develop their own tests to measure the performance of applicants (there is a rise in this already). Even if the quality of education at Yale, for instance, was not better than at other colleges, all things being equal, an employer could still have a high degree of trust that Yale students were more achieving and driven because of the rigorous selection process that Yale employs. If, instead, Yale were unable to ensure that its selection process was accurate and rigorous, then employers would design their own tests to measure ability and achievement. These tests would likely be of much, much lower quality than the SAT/ACT, have much less transparency, and much less objectivity. The ability of employers, then, to select the best employees would then also decline and become more subjective due to the high degree of variance in testing for employment.

Effect on Cities:

  • Wealthy neighborhoods could empty out. Again, why would a parent pay dramatically more in taxes for their child to attend a great high school in which the child will get “B’s”, when they could move to a lower cost of living area where the child can get “A’s” and be more likely to gain admittance to a better college?
  • There are reasons to potentially applaud the latter in the sense that wealth would likely become less concentrated. But at what cost? If that cost is that the quality of high schools, colleges, and companies declines, then the net gain is likely to be dramatically negative.

Effect on our Country:

  • As education declines, the U.S.’s preeminence in the world would decline. International students would not flock to U.S. colleges. The U.S. would, over time, cease to be a magnet for the best and brightest in the world. Our engine for innovation and opportunity would cease. Our people and our country would suffer.

Effect on our World:

  • Few things are perfect. The SAT and ACT certainly are not. The U.S. certainly is not either. But most people prefer its values to alternatives. As the U.S. declines, so does its impact on the world; and the impact of those alternatives gain power. Personally, I think that only weakens human potential and opportunity.