After reading the Rewarding Strivers book, I had some thoughts about how to make the college admissions system more fair to students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. Instead of boosting up the disadvantaged students, why not pull down the advantaged students?
Here’s the idea. Disadvantaged students are defined typically not by a bad thing that they have, but rather by good things that they don’t have: financial resources, a high-quality education, and so forth. In contrast, advantaged students get all sorts of freebies. So here are my suggestions:
1. All high school grades on a 4-point scale (A=4, B=3, etc). No more of this 5-points-for-an-A-in-an-AP course, which gives the ridiculous outcomes of kids graduating with a 4.3 average, not so fair to kids in schools that don’t offer a lot of AP classes.
2. Subtract points for taking the SAT multiple times. A simple rule would be: You can use your highest SAT score, but you lose 50 points for every other time you took the test. Or, even simpler: your official SAT is the average of all your scores rather than your highest score.
3. Subtract points for taking longer on the SAT. (I seem to recall that there is a policy where you are allowed an option to take as long as you want on the test. This is fine, but then you should lose points to be fair to the other students–many of whom have economic and social disadvantages–who didn’t take the extra time.)
4. Subtract points for taking a commercial coaching program such as Kaplan, Princeton Review, etc. These programs advertise that they improve kids’ scores and that’s how they make money. But many disadvantaged kids don’t have the option to take these. Require students to declare if they’ve taken such a course and subtract 50 points on the SAT for each such course taken. (Damn! I guess I’ve just forfeited my chance to run this proposal as a Washington Post op-ed….) Sure, students could lie on the form, but this would be on a permanent record, sent to both the college and the high school, and there’d be a real risk of getting caught and thrown out of school if you lie on this one.
5. Subtract points for going to a private school. Perhaps 20 points for every year of private high school and 10 points for every year of private elementary school. Or even something trickier such as 1 point for every thousand dollars spent on private school in the kid’s lifetime. I wonder if religious schools would complain about this one, something about religious discrimination. There should be a way to get around this one somehow, though.
6. Subtract points if your school (public or private) has its own SAT preparation program. These aren’t really supposed to be so effective (recall chapter 5 of BDA), so maybe just knock off 10 points for this one.
Perhaps readers could suggest further ideas? This is just a start, I’m sure. I’m trying to consider things that could plausibly affect test scores or grade point averages rather than being merely predictive of higher scores. I’m also restricting to items that are subject to parental choice. As a parent with school-age kids, you can’t retrospectively decide not to be white, or college educated, or whatever, but you can decide to send your children to public school, to not enroll them in a coaching program, and to only take the SAT once.