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Why the Test Prep Industry Must Focus on Equity of Access

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Test preparation companies often provide advantages to students whose families can afford to pay for supplemental tutoring. It’s the truth, and one I’m well aware of as the founder and CEO of a company that provides one-on-one test preparation. SAT and ACT scores correlate strongly with family income and wealth, reflecting the many academic advantages higher-income students have.

With test scores serving as an indicator not of just academic achievement but also access to high-quality educational experiences and opportunities, they often tilt unfairly against students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, disadvantaging them in the college admissions process.

Test prep companies have the responsibility to broaden their work to impact underserved students and address this opportunity gap. With a broader mission, we can make a tremendous difference in student achievement, college readiness, and college admissions for students from all backgrounds.

As Schools Go Test-Optional, Test Prep and Scores Still Have Big Impact

The pandemic has accelerated the number of colleges and universities that have gone test-optional, with around 1,600 of them offering the policy for the class of 2021. Since testing isn’t accessible to many students, admissions committees cannot use it equitably as a yardstick for the graduating class of 2021.

But that doesn’t mean that students who have submitted test scores won’t see an advantage this year and in the future for having the opportunity to back up their grades and extracurriculars with a strong SAT or ACT score.

This year’s admissions cycle may yet prove otherwise, but as income inequality soars in the US, how colleges look at test scores isn’t changing radically.

As Stephen Burd wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education last month, the test-optional trend isn’t about socioeconomic diversity for many colleges: “Instead, they choose to go test optional because it allows them to artificially inflate their average SAT and ACT scores, a key component in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, since generally only students with good scores submit them.”

With this in mind, it is important to approach the test prep industry with clear eyes and understand that those of us in leadership positions can unintentionally act as gatekeepers. We know how effective high-quality, personalized instruction can be: the impact of frequent, one-on-one, or small group tutoring is among the most impactful interventions available in closing achievement gaps and increasing overall student achievement.

We also know that low-income and minority students are likely bearing the brunt of learning loss throughout the pandemic; their access to lower-quality educational opportunities and remote learning access will likely mean they will return to school even further behind their wealthier peers.

But we know we can combat these challenges. We can give more students the opportunity to get the test prep and academic support their wealthier peers already access. This help doesn’t just work toward ensuring they get the college admissions outcomes they desire, it also ensures that they’re on the path to long-term success.

Test Prep Industry Must Be Inclusive

High-quality academic tutoring and test prep work: we’ve seen it with our own students, and research from the testing agencies supports our finding.

High-quality test prep can move the needle for a student’s admissions outcomes, college graduation, and even their long-term economic outlook. But as the cost of private test prep soars, it can range into thousands of dollars, making critical support disproportionately less accessible to low-income and minority students.

As we shape our curricula and develop our services, test prep leaders need to look in the mirror and then look at the faces in local classrooms. Every student can benefit from support in their standardized test prep, but not every student can afford it.

As we begin to recognize the extent to which equity of access to resources is an issue that feeds a broken system, we must also find ways to create solutions by shifting our resources.

Developing our instructional practices and programs to reach a wide range of diverse students simply makes us better educators, business people, and members of our communities.


Headshot of Matthew PietrafettaMatthew Pietrafetta is CEO and founder of the Academic Approach, a tutoring service that empowers students and educators from all backgrounds to grow scores, skills, and confidence both on and beyond standardized tests. Academic Approach views test preparation as a means to an academic end: teaching vital college readiness skills that not only raise scores but also prepare students for academic success both on and beyond the test.


DISCLAIMER! The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The College Post.

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