by Hannah Valencia | October 5, 2020
My SAT book sat in the corner of my room, gathering dust on its glossy paperback cover. The voice of my mother echoed in my head, as her constant reminders and concerns about the SAT had been engraved in my mind. In truth, I was intimidated and terrified by the daunting task before me, in all its two and a half pound, 575-page glory.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing protocols, many school-related activities have been cancelled, including the SAT. Questions have been raised about the equity and true value of standardized testing. While my friends complained about the cancellations, I personally felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. The stress of balancing my academic work, social life, and family obligations had been exacerbated by my SAT preparation. The importance of my performance on this test had been emphasized by my classmates, teachers, parents, and my own anxiety, even before I entered high school. I do not know what my future holds, but I do know that my score, a mere four-digit number, holds great leverage over me.
The SAT can leave students feeling belittled, ultimately convincing them that their scores equate to their intellect. However, a high-achieving individual can perform poorly on the test just as a low-achieving individual can perform well on it. In truth, the SAT is not a measure of knowledge and aptitude; it is more of a measure of affluence. Books, preparatory courses, and private tutors are expensive, yet these resources provide testing strategies essential to improving scores. Standardized tests marginalize students of lower socioeconomic families and schools, a demographic that uncoincidentally overlaps with students of color. As Ibram X. Kendi states about IQ tests in his How to Be an Antiracist, “the use of standardized tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies ever devised to degrade Black minds and legally exclude Black bodies.” The SAT reinforces the notion that people of color are intellectually inferior, when in actuality, it is the uneven access to test preparation resources that handicap them.
In a world that is already so commodified and standardized, why do we allow a single number to determine a student’s worth? A letter grade on my report card can show how well I grasped the class materials. My GPA reveals a glimpse of how hard I work in school each year. My extracurricular activities indicate what I am passionate about. My service hours demonstrate aspects of my character. My supplemental essays for college applications will express how life experiences have shaped me. However, you would not know from my SAT score what discussions in class affected my view of society and my own life. My score would not reflect the hours of sleep I sacrificed to understand chemistry. It would give no sense of the great joy and pride that performing on stage brings me. It would not tell a narrative of my desire to pursue a career in journalism because I want to give voiceless and marginalized communities the opportunity to share their stories. My score would not reveal what past hardships have made me a stronger person. From my SAT score, you would know that I am a privileged person. While I appreciate the opportunities I have been blessed with, it is unfair to benefit from them at the expense of other students. Is it possible that these “unfortunate” SAT cancellations are a blessing in disguise, or a way to leverage the playing field amidst the chaos of 2020?