Paul Kanarek, the CEO of Collegewise, the nation’s largest private college-counseling organization, described the news of the August test date as “one of those rarest of occasions—almost a unicorn moment—where College Board's relentless pursuit of its own economic interests also helps students.” Getting rid of the January exam, he argued, makes sense because it’s lightly attended, and those who take it are often juniors from elite private high schools. Kanarek said he “wouldn't be at all surprised if August didn't become one of the top two most popular testing dates within two to three years,” a sentiment echoed by Ingersoll.
Harold Levy, the executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which awards scholarships to high-achieving, low-income students, cited another significant benefit of an August SAT: “The earlier date will allow students to have a better handle on their scores going into early decision, early action,” which will help them devise a sounder application strategy. “If more low-income students can take advantage of [early admission],” he added, “it will helpful them immensely to match to the appropriate schools.”
The “if” in Levy’s remark is all-important because it highlights the importance of assessing how the new test date will affect lower-income students. On an even playing field, low-income students should enjoy the same benefits of an earlier test date as their more-affluent peers would, but a recent Jack Kent Cooke Foundation report demonstrated the field is far from level. As Levy argued in an op-ed, “Children of poverty can’t apply early, because they can’t commit to a particular school until they know how much their financial aid package will be.”
One of the major impediments preventing low-income students from applying early to schools is the fee-waiver system, whose red tape and paperwork already make it difficult for them to take the October test, according to Carla Shere, the college-guidance director at Manhattan’s Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering in Manhattan. In some schools, the waiver system’s timeline fosters a culture that encourages students to take the SAT for the first time in November of their senior year. (Prep-school students, on the other hand, are often advised to take the SAT for the first time in the spring or even winter of their junior year.) According to Levin, the College Board is aware of this challenge and working on a remedy that will make fee-waiver distribution available for the August test date.
Ironically, one of the College Board’s answers to the access problem could actually put low-income students at an even greater disadvantage. SAT school-day testing, an option in which states or school districts pay for all students to take the exam in the spring of junior year, is one way around the fee-waiver crush since everyone takes it for free. School-day testers do not, however, enjoy the advantage of prepping for the exam without the competing demands of homework and extracurriculars. And free testing could create a scenario in which poor and middle-class kids take the test only once during the school year while their wealthier peers get to prep for an additional summertime exam.