Approximately 70 percent of colleges and universities in the United States require standardized testing, according to the nonprofit FairTest. This testing comes in just two forms: the ACT or the SAT. For CHS students, preparation and taking the tests costs not only time, but in some cases quite a bit of money.
Although considered nonprofits, the College Board and ACT are both very profitable businesses. In their 2013 report, the College Board listed the year’s profits at nearly $43 million. However, unbeknownst to some students, the College Board is not just responsible for the SAT. It also administers AP tests, the PSAT and SAT Subject Tests.
These testing companies are not the only ones profiting off high school students, as tutoring centers and private tutors also thrive on student anxiety.
“I started studying at Bright Horizons second semester of junior year and then took the ACT once in September,” senior Maddi Randazzo says. “I started with group tutoring and then went to private tutoring. I had two tutors, one for math and English, and one for just English. Usually I went for an hour and a half once or twice a week, and then when it got close I had a few days in a row where I took a lot of practice tests. It was a few thousand dollars total.”
In order to ensure that CHS students aren’t spending money on AP tests as well, the district pays for all of the AP tests administered. Just last year alone, CUSD spent nearly $66,700 on AP tests for just 823 students.
However, unless eligible for a fee waiver provided by the companies, students are forced to face the numbers and pay for all other college entrance tests out-of-pocket. Currently, the SAT costs $52.50 and the ACT Plus Writing costs $54.50. Each SAT Subject Test costs $26, and the ACT without writing costs $38.
Yet in order for students to get into college, they must actually send their scores. Sending ACT scores costs $12 per school per test, and sending SAT scores costs $11.
Although the SAT is cheaper, current CHS seniors leaned towards taking the ACT instead (perhaps because of the ACT prep course funded by the school). In total, 73 percent of students reported taking the ACT at least once, compared to the 25 percent of seniors who took at least one SAT.
College counselors found that, overall, the weakest link in CHS students’ college applications were their ACT and SAT scores. After a push from parents and counselors, last year the district funded Princeton Review tutoring. Classes were taught once a week during study hall, and in total, 108 juniors participated.
“We didn’t want money to be an obstacle for any students” counselor Darren Johnston says. “The program tells our students how important these tests are, and it taught students to sit down and actually prep for a test. It’s hard to say how effective it was because the ACT doesn’t release average student scores for a school until after that particular class has graduated. But I think by the time we get to the third year of this program, we’ll absolutely see some big results from it.”
When it comes to sitting down and prepping for a test, some seniors chose to pay private tutors or go to tutoring centers. Of the 145 seniors polled, only 29 students reported going to a tutoring center for a staggering average of 17 hours each. 20 students reported using a private tutor, and on average each student spent 12.6 hours with the tutor.
“I had a private tutor,” senior Athena McPartland says. “The first time I took the test, I definitely wanted to improve my score, so kept going with the tutor, and then the second time I took the test, I got the score I wanted. I went through three ACT books taking practice tests. My tutor was really expensive; I don’t know the exact numbers, but it was probably a few thousand.”
While most seniors did not go through three books worth of practice tests, 64 percent reported buying an ACT prep book, compared to the relatively small 19 percent of students who bought an SAT prep book.
For students who cannot afford testing materials or tutoring, the SAT announced in March that they are teaming up with Khan Academy to provide free, online tips for studying that will be available by spring 2015. This year, however, some CHS students who wanted help studying were unable to afford it.
“I was working and saw some of my fellow students getting tutored for the ACT at one of our coffeeshop tables, and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, why am I working, I should be doing that, too,’” senior Robin Myers says. “I really wanted to be doing tutoring also, so I talked to the tutor after and she said it was pretty expensive and I realized that that wouldn’t work for me. I wasn’t very happy with my ACT score and felt that a tutor would really help and motivate me, but I just couldn’t afford it.”
In regards to standardized testing as a whole, most students do not like the highly profitable system.
And Johnston remarks, “I believe the potential exists for colleges to use much more meaningful measures of a student’s ability to perform in college than the SAT and ACT.”