Tests such as the SAT and ACT allow some students to...

Tests such as the SAT and ACT allow some students to distinguish themselves. Credit: Newsday/istock

The debate about the effectiveness of the SAT in the college admissions process rages on, most recently in a news story in Newsday that found that many Long Island universities are not requiring either the SAT or the ACT exam because they believe other measures of student achievement are better predictors of college success.

That's unfortunate, because in my experience as a K-12 educator in districts with significant populations of high-needs students, I found that for many students the SAT did not close college doors but provided opportunities for those doors to open.

The most recent controversy over the SAT began in 2021, when the University of California system rocked the academic world by announcing that after 60 years, it would no longer use the SAT as a tool in the admissions process. Lost in all the headlines about the SAT and the ACT, one fact remains: Many colleges and universities allow students to submit SAT/ACT scores, but do not require them. 

The College Board continues to administer the SAT in fulfillment of its stated mission to expand college access by identifying students at less competitive high schools who merit consideration by our nation’s most prestigious institutions — an equalizer for students to demonstrate potential for rigorous academic pursuits.

As colleges and universities on Long Island — and elsewhere — move away from requiring the SAT, its future becomes murky. In response, momentous changes in the SAT lie on the horizon. In 2024, the test will go fully digital as a two-hour exam that allows students to use calculators on all mathematics sections and contains shorter reading passages than the current ones, which test students’ attention spans as much as their reading skills.

The worst outcome would be for schools and students to abandon the SAT and ACT. Throughout five decades in education, I saw numerous instances where the SAT allowed students to attend — and demonstrate their worthiness for — our most prestigious colleges and universities, fulfilling the original mission of the assessment. These students experienced personal challenges that made it difficult for them to show their potential in classrooms, extracurricular activities, and other traditional measures of readiness. Like the students who needed to be home immediately after school to watch younger siblings and could not participate in sports, clubs, and other activities. How can students in such circumstances demonstrate their qualifications for admission to Ivy League and other high-level institutions and financial aid packages that enable them to attend these bastions of wealth and privilege?

Tests like the SAT and ACT provide an opportunity for such students to distinguish themselves. Do students gain admission solely based on a test score? Not in my experience. When they show promise on an SAT/ACT score, an admissions officer requests that they come for an interview and uses that to make the final determination on admission and financial support. If we stop administering these assessments, students like these will be the losers, as will the institutions that fail to diversify their student bodies.

Beyond that, if students stop taking these high-stakes assessments, what will happen when they wish to pursue postgraduate education and need to take the MCAT, GMAT, LSAT or GRE? We owe it to students to prepare them for life after high school and undergraduate school. The SAT and ACT continue to play an important role in that process.

This guest essay reflects the views of Michael Cohen, a retired superintendent of the Brentwood school district.