CharterFolk Contributor Dr. Kaycee Brock – The Return of the Test: How CSGF Schools are Reprioritizing the SAT and ACT

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today we are delighted to share with you a Contributor Column from Dr. Kaycee Brock, Postsecondary Success Lead at the Charter School Growth Fund.

We provide a bio for Kaycee below.

Dr. Kaycee Brock is the postsecondary success lead at the Charter School Growth Fund. In this role, she supports college and career leads in the CSGF portfolio by designing new learning experiences, identifying postsecondary success ideas that scale what works, and investing in innovative pilots and programs. Kaycee also served as the director of external impact at KIPP Foundation where she launched and led a program centered on sharing KIPP’s college match strategy with traditional public school districts. Kaycee has also served as a district-level postsecondary coach at the NYC Department of Education, founding assistant principal at DREAM Charter High School where she developed school culture and early college readiness programming, and director of college and alumni programs at Harlem Village Academies. Kaycee started her career in education as a classroom teacher. She taught for five years and is an alumnae of Teach For America-Houston.

The Return of the Test: How CSGF Schools are Reprioritizing the SAT and ACT

In recent years, the landscape of college admissions has undergone significant changes, with a growing number of institutions adopting test-optional policies due to the pandemic. However, as we witness a shift back towards requiring standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, many networks in the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) portfolio are considering ways to reignite their test preparation efforts for college admission.

Some CSGF schools have deprioritized SAT and ACT test prep over the last few years with the rise of test-optional policies, while others have continued to keep the test as a central part of their high school program. However, when we assessed the selectivity level of the colleges students are matriculating into, the results were typically aligned with SAT and ACT scores with only a few outliers. This year, some of the outliers that have put a heavier emphasis on preparing students for a test-optional world are now gearing up to refocus on the SAT and ACT. This means preparing their schools to be aligned with this change, as it will be a consideration when it comes to scheduling, budget, and overall school culture. This move is happening quickly, so charter networks across the country should consider acting as soon as possible, so as not to get left behind.

The Evolution of Test-Optional Policies

The trend toward test-optional admissions gained momentum in response to criticisms that standardized tests like the SAT favor students from affluent backgrounds, who can afford costly tutoring and test preparation courses. This was exacerbated by the pandemic as testing became a health concern for many, and some colleges opted to keep a test-optional policy despite the country’s return to normalcy. However, as one might imagine, for colleges that have not had a long history of considering a significant number of applications without test scores, some did not perfect the practice. 

As the dust settles from the challenges of the pandemic, many college access and admissions experts have indicated that the absence of standardized testing may inadvertently disadvantage the very groups it aimed to support. Without standardized metrics, the college admissions process can become more subjective, often favoring students with access to other forms of preparation, resources, and support.

The Importance of the SAT for Low-Income Students

  1. Standardized Benchmark: The SAT provides a standardized benchmark that can help level the playing field. For low-income students, standardized tests offer an opportunity to showcase their potential on a national scale. Without the SAT, students may find it challenging to stand out based solely on grades and extracurricular activities, which can vary significantly between schools. Additionally, if a school is part of a small charter management organization and/or not as well known, it is difficult for an admissions officer to know how they measure up in terms of rigorous courses offered or preparation for college. The SAT gives students a chance to demonstrate their aptitude in comparison to students around the country, and the world.
  1. Scholarship Opportunities: Many scholarships, especially those aimed at supporting low-income students, require SAT scores as part of their application process. By prioritizing the SAT, schools can help students access these financial resources, making higher education more affordable and attainable. This is especially true for many HBCUs and public universities, both of which are top choices for many students in the CSGF portfolio. 
  1. College Readiness: The SAT is designed to assess college readiness, providing students and educators with valuable feedback. For students from low-income backgrounds, this feedback can identify areas where additional support is needed, helping to bridge gaps in knowledge and skills before they transition to college. Based on our collected data from recent years, students in the CSGF portfolio who do well on the SAT/ACT have a better chance of persisting through and completing college. 
  1. Holistic Admissions: While holistic admissions processes consider a wide range of factors, standardized test scores offer a quantifiable measure that can give a more comprehensive picture of a student’s abilities and potential when combined with other factors. Reintroducing the SAT into high school priorities ensures that all students, regardless of background, can present a complete and competitive application. For example, after looking at data over the past few years, Dartmouth found that for students from low-income families, many would have likely gotten in if they’d submitted their test scores, but they believed they were too low and were not admitted through the test-optional policy because there wasn’t enough academic background information for the school to feel certain they’d be successful at the school. 

What Colleges Are Saying

Several colleges and universities have recently reaffirmed the importance of SAT scores in their admissions processes, citing the need for standardized metrics to fairly evaluate applicants from diverse educational backgrounds:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): In a significant decision that sparked much of the conversation of the shift back towards an emphasis on testing, MIT announced the reinstatement of SAT/ACT requirements for future admissions cycles. They emphasized that standardized test scores provide critical data that help evaluate applicants’ readiness for MIT’s rigorous academic environment, especially in math and science, which are core to its curriculum.
  1. Howard University: Although Howard University instituted a test-optional policy, their full-ride scholarship has an SAT(1500) and GPA (3.75) requirement which is required to receive a full ride. There are other merit scholarships offered, but most of them also require a high SAT score to receive a merit scholarship. So although students may be admitted, the score will help with affordability. This is also the case for many HBCUs across the country. 
  1. University of Georgia: The University of Georgia reinstated its SAT/ACT requirement, arguing that standardized test scores are crucial for maintaining the academic standards of its incoming classes. The university noted that these scores help in making equitable comparisons between students from different high schools with varied grading systems. 

As the pendulum swings back towards requiring standardized tests in college admissions, it’s imperative that high schools consider the importance of standardized test scores in the admissions process. Implementing practices such as SAT and ACT prep classes, teacher training to incorporate test prep into core practices of the school, and an earlier introduction to these tests could all be beneficial to support this effort. 

Students should always have a choice of whether or not they plan to use their test scores,  however giving them a chance to simply try – and feel prepared to do so – can benefit students in the college application process. Where students attend college is one of the most important decisions they will make, not only for opportunities they will have to build connections and gain social capital but for low-income students, it is an important indicator of their likelihood of graduating and being able to live a choice-filled life.