Should The SAT Replace State Assessments?

Oh, the agony of test-taking!

High schoolers these days are kept busy studying all year long for all manner of tests: class exams, AP tests, standardized statewide assessment tests, and college entrance exams like the SAT, ACT, and SAT IIs. 

Many parents, students, and educators have become critical of standardized state tests in particular. They complain that preparing for the exam — the results of which can affect public schools’ funding — has come to dominate the entire school year, at the expense of more meaningful learning.

Is it possible to reduce the burden these assessments place on students and schools?

Keep reading for insight!

A Radical Proposal

In California, one proposed solution has been gaining ground. It’s now made its way to the state legislature, in the form of Assembly Bill 751. If adopted, California would allow schools to replace the current state math and English language arts exams —  Smarter Balanced assessments — with a college admissions test like the SAT or ACT. 

Proponents of the bill say that it will reduce test fatigue for students. It will also let them devote more time to something that, obviously, is important for getting into college. 

Some also say that for low-income students who don’t usually have access to SAT or ACT prep resources (like tutoring, taking several rounds of practice tests, etc.), the move could equalize the playing field. This could result in a more diverse range of students applying to colleges. 

But of course, the bill also has plenty of critics. 

Opposition to Assembly Bill 751

One major argument is that college admissions tests are tailored towards sorting and ranking applicants. In other words, they have the active goal of helping colleges create a reject pile. They are not tailored towards making sure students are learning in accordance with the state’s particular academic standards.

In EdSource, several voices have laid out still more specific critiques.

Jay Rosner, Executive Director of Princeton Review Foundation, notes that the ACT and SAT have significant problems. Among these are math questions that unfairly advantage boys over girls. 

SAT and ACT: Should They Replace State Assessments?

“Nationally, that SAT math gap favoring boys has fluctuated between 30 and 46 points every year from 1972 to 2016,” he writes in EdSource

Pamela Burdman of Just Equations, and Christopher Edley, Jr. of the UC Berkeley School of Law and Policy Analysis for California Education, have also written that the SAT and ACT perpetuate inequality. 

“[R]esearch makes clear that the SAT and ACT are more stratifying in terms of race and income than the Smarter Balanced test. Colleges should consider adopting more equitable tests,” they state in EdSource.

What’s more, “doubling down on college admissions tests like the SAT flies in the face of consistent research showing that scores on these tests are weaker predictors of college performance than high-school grades.”


Unsurprisingly for such a hot topic, every wave of commentary inspires many rejoinders. EdSource rounded up several of the most noteworthy responses in a recent post, including two representing the SAT and ACT companies. 

Cynthia Schmeiser, an advisor at The College Board, which owns and administers the SAT, says that some critiques of the SAT are in fact about the old SAT, before the test’s overhaul in 2016. 

“It is now an achievement test measuring what students are learning that is essential for college and career readiness. Those skills and concepts have been identified through empirical research,” she claims. She also says that there is in fact a “very close alignment of the SAT to the California state standards and the standards of other states.” 

SAT and ACT: Should They Replace State Assessments?

And, finally, she mentions ways that the SAT has sought to eliminate, as she puts it, “the inequities associated with high-priced test preparation.” This has involved partnering with Khan Academy to create free practice resources for students.

As for the ACT, Wayne Camara, a chair of research there, pointed to 2018, when 26 states gave a college admissions test to public-school juniors. 

“Those states using standardized tests like the ACT for accountability have found they can decrease testing time by about 50 percent or more and eliminate the need for double-testing,” Camara notes. “Also, they are able to compare the performance of students in their high school with students nationally, which isn’t possible with customized state tests.”

Plus, “students are arguably more motivated to do their best when taking college admissions tests because the results have personal benefits…Research has also shown increases in college applications and enrollment in states using admission tests, particularly among underrepresented groups.”

A Middle Ground?

Yoon S. Choi, the founder of the nonprofit CollegeSpring (which helps provide SAT and ACT test preparation to low-income students) chimed in with her own perspective. She says that it is “absolutely true” that SAT and ACT scores reveal income and race stratification.

However, she also points out that such inequities are “present in every single aspect of our educational system” — from GPA to access to AP classes and numerous other educational outcomes — and “not unique to the SAT and ACT.” In her view, then, a better solution is to make sure students are prepared as well as possible to take and perform well on the tests. 

A Good SAT Score

“The SAT and ACT aren’t perfect measures of academic potential, but they offer a more consistent measure than GPA, extracurricular activities or access to AP classes, which vary widely across schools and districts,” she observes. 

She additionally cites the example of students she has worked with who “struggled to maintain a high GPA over their four years of high school because of difficult social or economic circumstances.” In Choi’s perspective, “securing a good score on the SAT or ACT can be life-changing for these students when schools like those in the CSU system use a combination of GPA and college entrance exams to determine eligibility.”

Should the SAT Replace State Assessments? Final Thoughts

The question of replacing state assessments with college admissions-oriented tests like the SAT or ACT is complex indeed. 

To that end, it’s worth reading the opinions of all of the many experts who have weighed in. The more parents, educators, and students learn about the issue, the better the chances that, ultimately, an appropriate solution can be found.  

No matter what happens, though, the quickest way to success on college admissions tests is to enroll in an effective SAT test prep program. Learn more about Princeton Tutoring’s SAT prep programs now!

Greg Wong & Kevin WongGreg & Kevin

Greg and Kevin are brothers and the co-founders of PrepMaven and Princeton Tutoring. They are Princeton engineering graduates with over 20 years of education experience. They apply their data and research-backed problem-solving skills to the test prep and college preparation process. Their unique approach places a heavy emphasis on personal development, character, and service as key components of college admissions success.