SAT test preparation books sit on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble store in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SAT test preparation books sit on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble store in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

I read with great skepticism Ian Siegel’s commentary on pro bono test prep (“Baltimore should invest in pro bono test prep,” Mar. 29).

It was hard to divorce his point of view from the fact that his business is selling test prep and college counseling to families with the discretionary income to invest in such a service.


To suggest that pro bono test prep will “empower” Baltimore’s top students is presumptuous. Many students at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute receive not only impressive college acceptances but also handsome financial packages. These students are performing well on their exams due to the rigorous curriculum which prepares them for challenging college work — not simply for a standardized test. Most are not receiving test prep. Baltimore City College High School can claim the same.

Mr. Siegel’s argument that the SAT opens doors to elite colleges is only a piece of the story for low-income students. Test scores alone certainly do not guarantee a student’s entrance into any college. And low-income students, particularly non-native English speakers, are definitely at a disadvantage.

Admittedly, standardized tests provide information for colleges and universities about students, which is difficult to glean from academic records alone. These tests are one way for colleges to view students through the same lens.

But there are many other factors in college admission decisions including a college’s ability to financially support a student. Additionally, the current trend is towards “test-optional,” waiving standardized test requirements. More than 1,000 colleges no longer require SATs or ACTs.

I am not sure what “investment” in pro bono test prep would look like with the very limited financial resources available to city schools. Is Mr. Siegel offering his own services for free for all city high schools? How very generous!

If investments are to be made, I would argue resources would be better spent in lowering class sizes, investing in professional development and increased salaries for educators and fostering academic enrichment programs throughout the city, such as the Ingenuity Project, Project Lead the Way and International Baccalaureate Programs. Such programs provide a challenging curriculum and prepare students for the rigors of college and life far better than learning to take a standardized test.

In his new book The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, Anthony Jack argues that when lower income students have access to resources similar to those of their wealthier peers, they can and do acquire — and later use — the skills needed to succeed in college and beyond.

Certainly, many Baltimore City public high school students could use more resources to enhance their education and their opportunities for college admission, but I am not convinced that providing test prep is the way to achieve that goal.

Elinor Spokes

The writer is program coordinator at ¡Adelante Latina!