Test prep aids the affluent


Nearly every high-school student who plans to attend a four-year college or university has one thing in common: They have to take the ACT or SAT.

While some have seen standardized tests as assessments benefiting the wealthy in the past, the economic crisis could be making it even more difficult for low-income students to compete for college admission.

“The heavy use of ACT and SAT scores reinforce the advantages students from well-to-do families have had all their lives,” said Bob Schaeffer, director of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

The goal of the nonprofit organization is to make the college application process equal for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, Schaeffer said, and it urges the use of “test optional” systems that allow students to send in ACT or SAT scores by choice.

“If students are able to make the decision of whether they want to be assessed based on their test score or not, no one will be disadvantaged,” Schaeffer said.

A recent Princeton Review survey — entitled College Hopes and Worries Survey-2009 — found students thought the ACT and SAT were the toughest part of the college-application process.

While the high pressure and stress that comes with taking these tests can be alleviated through practice and tutoring, those preparation options often carry a hefty price tag. Classes can cost up to $325 per hour at places such as Kaplan Learning Center and even more through private tutors.

High-school senior Amanda Feldgreber, who plans to attend the UI next year, said she was able to take private ACT lessons at Hungtington Learning Center in her hometown of Long Grove, Ill.
Feldgreber said she took at least 20 sessions of tutoring and was able to take the actual ACT five times before she earned her desired score.

“In the classes, I got to take practice exams and received packets of helpful hints and formulas,” the 18-year-old said. “It’s normal to take ACT classes here, every single one of my friends did.”

But some students do not have that option.

City High senior Liz Oyarzun, who will also attend the UI in the fall, did not take any ACT preparation courses and took the test twice before receiving a score of 25 and applying to college.

Oyarzun said she only knows a couple of her classmates who attended tutoring.

“If classes were free, or cheaper, I would have definitely taken them,” she said.

High school guidance counselors and college advisers said they try to prepare their students for college admissions, specifically targeting students who need financial assistance, said Renato de Leon, West High’s guidance department head.

“We advertise cheap ways the students can get testing practice,” he said. “We can also waive the test fees for specific students in financial need.”

Although such tactics can be helpful, Schaeffer said he believes the only option to fix the problem is for colleges to look at test scores as only one of many factors, if at all, when considering a student.

The UI, which does not have a minimum ACT or SAT score for admittance, uses a Regent Admission Index score, said Michael Barron, the UI’s assistant provost of enrollment and director of admissions. The score takes into account ACT results, high-school rank, high-school grade point average, and number of core courses completed before graduation, he said.

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