No More Bubbles: The Future of the SAT at Grace and Beyond

Media provided from Mohamed Hassan, via Pixabay.

By 2024, students will take the SAT digitally, leaving over a century of paper and pencils behind. Assuming College Board follows through, 9th graders at Grace will be the first class to take the SAT online. 

The College Board’s recent announcement is the most consequential in its history. The soon-to-be digital test will last just two hours instead of three and have shorter reading passages with just 1-2 questions per passage (as opposed to 10 questions per passage). To make matters even easier, calculators will now be allowed on both math sections as opposed to just one. 

Although surprising, the change has been a long time coming. The heated discussion regarding the fairness, necessity, and relevance of the test has haunted the College Board for over a decade now. In 2011, the University of California system stopped requiring subject tests. Although the subject tests were available for another 10 years, the UC’s decision to disregard them commenced a slow but sure demise. 

One year ago, the College Board officially abolished the essay and the subject tests amidst the accessibility concerns that COVID created. Months later, the UC system put another nail in the College Board’s coffin when they adopted a test blind admission process. 

The pandemic has caused an increase in institutions that tout an admissions process devoid of test scores. According to FairTest.Org, 76% of all colleges nationwide are implementing test-optional or test-blind admissions for the class of 2023. Only two state systems, Florida and Georgia, have kept their testing requirements in place.  

The percentage of test-optional and test-blind schools is at a recent record high and is not projected to decrease. While some college counselors and other “insiders” anticipated that schools would return to required testing post-pandemic, most schools will, in fact, remain test-optional for the next few years and perhaps even longer. In an effort to make admissions more holistic, accessible, and equitable, some schools, like Wake Forest and the University of Chicago, are permanently test-optional.


The College Board’s 2021 reports confirm clear discrepancies in SAT performance across different socioeconomic classes and racial groups with Black and Hispanic students averaging lower scores than their White and Asian counterparts. 

SAT Score Averages by Race and Parent Education in NY State. Data Collected from College Board’s 2021 Report. Graph Created with Canva. 

Nevertheless, the shift towards test-optional admissions only increased the share of Native American, Black, and Hispanic college admits by 1%, as demonstrated by an AERA study

According to Kelly Rosinger, a former admission officer at the University of Georgia, “the other qualifications that admissions departments weigh, such as extracurricular activities and advanced high school courses, tend to privilege the same students who are privileged by test scores.” While the test may reinforce educational inequity, eliminating it does not exactly do the opposite. 

Peregrine Heard, Director of School Programs at the tutoring company BeSpoke Education,  said that the test can ironically benefit underserved students in some cases. Because “colleges know the test is unfair,” she proclaimed, “if you’re coming from an underserved community background, school, or school district, and you can show a 950, 1050, or 1100 on your SAT, it is actually going to elevate your application.” 

The College Board’s website claims that “College Board was created to expand access to higher education.” A lower test score might not directly correlate with a lower chance of acceptance. Rather the score often works in tandem with other aspects of a student’s application. 

Grace’s Director of College Counseling, Melanie White, explained, “The test companies would tell you, ‘there’s nothing wrong with my tests, it’s how you use it.’” The whole admissions system may be inequitable, not just the admission exams alone. 

One 12th grade student at Grace offered a holistic criticism of the college admissions process, saying, “I understand how [the test] is unfair socioeconomically, however, every aspect of the college process is unfair in that respect. Your GPA could be high because of private tutoring, or you could pay money for extracurriculars.” The student scored a 34 on the ACT, after studying with private tutors. 

What does this all mean at Grace? 

In an anonymous survey sent out to the eleventh and twelfth graders, 42% of students said that the shift away from standardized testing advantages them. A majority of students also supported the abolition of standardized tests. 

Forms response chart. Question title: PERSONALLY: The shift AWAY from the SAT/ACT. Number of responses: 26 responses.

Responses recorded from Gazette conducted survey.

One junior at Grace exclaimed, “Our college application shouldn’t be based on a 2-4 hour test that we have to wake up at the crack of dawn for.” The student also chose not to reveal their score. 

Another student argued that “the test material you receive the day of could vary greatly from the next test […] or you could be feeling sick the day you take it. I think, in general, slapping a number on a person is not a good admissions strategy.” Still, the student scored an impressive 1490 on the SAT. 

Forms response chart. Question title: The standardized tests are a proper measure of academic ability and can anticipate who will perform well in college.. Number of responses: 26 responses.

Responses recorded from Gazette conducted survey.

Despite these statistics, most Grace students end up taking standardized tests. In fact, the students surveyed spent an average of 2.5 hours per week on test prep. Just 20% have decided not to submit their scores to any institutions. 

Typically, students’ scores “went to some places and not to others,” Ms. White explained. She continued, saying, “if you don’t submit a test, it’s not as if you are being disadvantaged. If you do submit a test, I think there can be an advantage there.” Of course, there are also test-blind schools, which do not accept tests from any applicant.  

While Grace students may seem to rebuke the standardized tests on paper, most are taking them and scoring high enough to submit. Some students think that comes down to the general education and tutoring resources that independent schools offer. 

One senior even said, “My score only improved because I could pay for tutoring.” That student went from a 28 to a 35 in their ACT by studying five hours a week. The survey generally shows a clear correlation between resources and increased scores. 

What’s the Solution? 

While tutoring may contribute to greater score gaps, it can also help close them. Grace’s tutoring partner, BeSpoke Education, is working to equalize the playing field. 

Although they typically tutor independent school students, the company recently created BeSpoke Education Access, a non-profit sector targeting underserved high schoolers. Heard explained, “The mission of BeSpoke Education Access is to expand our reach to low-income students, first-generation college applicants, public, and charter school students.” 

But private tutoring companies can only do so much. It is an unrealistically expensive process to provide free tutoring for 48.1 million public school students. It is unlikely for governments to subsidize such an operation when there are far simpler solutions. 

The Ultimate Outcome

The College Board called mayday with last Tuesday’s announcement. It is not only schools turning against the tests but also millions of students. The company is catering towards the consumers—students—for the first time in its history. They are rapidly losing market share and are desperately clinging for survival. 

When asked the big question, 60% of Grace students vouched to drop the pencils. 

For now, the infamous test lives on but its expiration looks more inevitable than ever. 

Forms response chart. Question title: College entrance exams should be abolished. Number of responses: 26 responses.

Responses recorded from Gazette conducted survey.