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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

SAT/ACT for all

To get more smart, disadvantaged students into better colleges, all students should take the SAT or ACT free of charge, argues Susan Dynarski.Susan Dynarski is a professor of education, public policy and economics at the University of Michigan.

“Even for students who perform well in high school, parents’ income strongly predicts whether they will attend and complete college,” she writes.

We’re losing talent, because children of non-college-educated parents are getting lost in the college-admissions process, Dynarski believes. “Guidance counselors, typically assigned hundreds (sometimes thousands) of students, can’t replace an informed, well-resourced parent.”

Although a majority of students are eligible for an SAT fee waiver, only 25 percent used a waiver in 2017, she writes.

As of 2017, 25 states require that students take the ACT or SAT.

. . . Michigan began requiring public school juniors to take the ACT in 2007, and the share of high school graduates taking a college entrance exam rose immediately to nearly 99 percent from 54 percent. That growth was even sharper among low-income students; only 35 percent had been taking the test.

Joshua Hyman analyzed the results.

It was not just low-achieving students who had been skipping the ACT (or the SAT, which Professor Hyman also tracked). For every 1,000 students who took a college exam when it was optional, and scored high enough to attend a selective college, another 230 high scorers appeared once the test was mandatory. For low-income students, the effect was larger: For every 1,000 students who scored well on the optional test, an additional 480 did so on the mandatory test.

Universal free testing has increased college-going, especially for disadvantaged students, in Michigan, MaineIllinois and Colorado, Dynarski concludes. It costs less than $50 a student.

“Nearly 1 in 4 high-achieving, low-income students apply to college completely on their own, according to a report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

I just wish there were more disadvantaged achievers.

The college readiness gap is huge. Only 9 percent of black and Latino students in the class of 2017 from low-income, non-college-educated families tested as well-prepared for college according to ACT’s  The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2017 report. Of students with college-educated, middle-income, white or Asian-American parents, 54 percent are prepared, ACT estimates.

Dynarski wants to identify low-income, first-generation achievers, so they be helped to reach their potential.

If you have time to volunteer, check out iMentor, which works with high schools to run a weekly goal-setting class and pairs students with college-educated mentors. We meet in person once a month and exchange e-mail every week.

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