Methma is a Volunteer Representative for Swearer Tutoring and Enrichment in Math and Sciences (STEMS). As a VR, Methma helps plan weekly meetings for the tutors, which are intended to provide Brown tutors with tools to work more effectively, through tutoring skills, knowledge of current education policy, discussions on the role of a tutor in a classroom, or information about the Providence Public School system. She is currently tutoring in a physics class.
How to be “Sexy” in a Broken System
While recruiting for the Brown SAT Prep Program, my supervisor has told me over and over: “You have to make the SAT sexy, Sarah”. I know that somehow I must make the SAT “sexy” to show potential volunteers that tutoring for the SAT is fun, exciting and worthwhile. Yet, I have found this quite difficult.
Let’s be honest, we’re talking about the SAT. A test that most Brown students saw as a necessary evil. A test that causes anxiety, tension and heartbreak to thousands of hopeful students. A test that doesn’t achieve what it was created to do. A test that thrives in a broken system. What could possibly be sexy about the SAT?
In the early 1900’s, a few colleges wanted to find a consistent way to accept the best and brightest students into their programs no matter their background or previous education experiences. As Miro Kazakoff explains in his TEDx Talk, these colleges wanted to “design a test that didn’t reflect what you had learned, but one that measured your ability to learn”. Thus, the SAT was born. A test that was supposed to measure your “intelligence”, a quality that they believed was inherent.
But then came Stanley Kaplan. Stanley Kaplan believed that one could improve on the SAT with hard work and practice. After teaching himself and tutoring others, he proved to the test makers that success on the SAT wasn’t just based on intelligence, but also the extent of one’s practice and preparation for the test. With this notion, the massive SAT preparation industry that we witness today began.
In their 2009 report, Eduventures estimated that about 2 million students spend $2.5 billion a year on test preparation and tutoring. This statistic startles me. It tells me that taking the SAT has become a “rich man’s sport.” With the amount of money spent each year on test prep, I think it is clear that the SAT does not measure aptitude or reasoning. Instead, it measures how much money one spends on the “right” preparation in hopes of succeeding on the SAT. Why do people continue to pay? They know that if they pay to get better scores on the SAT test, their child has a better chance of success with college admissions. They are paying to improve scores on a test that is supposed to give all students an equal opportunity to access education. This is wrong.
And what am I doing about this? I am running yet another SAT test preparation program. I am humored but also dismayed by this hypocrisy. Aren’t I feeding into the system that I just denounced? Aren’t I simply providing a small number of students with that same unfair advantage on the SAT Test? Yes. Yes I am. But I justify my program in a number of ways. First, Brown SAT Prep offers completely free services. All tutoring programs are free and materials are always provided. Also, we advertise our services to schools with low-income students and to programs like Rhode Islander’s Sponsoring Education, an organization that works with the children of incarcerated or formally incarcerated parents, in order to find students in desperate need of a boost in their college admission process. We target students who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to compete with the students whose parents pay thousands of dollars each year towards their success on the SAT.
Does this completely satisfy my need to justify my volunteer work? Certainly not! I wish the system was different. I wish the SAT was not a “rich man’s sport.” There are people working to change the system but change takes time. This is what I do know: Right now, we have a system in the US that bases college admissions off of a standardized test that favors those who have the money to buy the right preparation. We live and operate within a broken system. Through Brown SAT Prep, I choose to work within the broken system to try to equal the playing field and provide a service to disadvantaged students.
Whenever I feel particularly frustrated with the SAT, I think about one final justification for my volunteer work: Brown SAT Prep does make a positive difference for every student involved with our program. Whether that means increasing students’ scores by 200 points, as one of my tutors exclaimed last month, or whether this means providing our students with a supportive, encouraging, and determined mentor, Brown SAT Prep strives to instill the skills and confidence necessary to be successful on the SAT, in college and beyond. This is why the SAT is sexy.
I was working in the classroom last semester at Hope High School. I had about 10 students struggling over a particularly challenging “Long Passage” SAT Critical Reading section. After the initial panic about the long reading, we all worked through the passage together, analyzing the reading, discussing the questions and helping each other understand. And in the end, they got all the questions right. They had gotten a perfect score.
But to me, the score didn’t matter. Yes, the score is important but it was their communication, their teamwork, and their confidence that made the most difference. One of my most struggling students, an English-language learner taking this SAT-level English class, spoke up and said four words to me after class. Four words that justified my struggle over the broken system. Four words that every teacher and volunteer wants to hear.
“Miss, I feel smart.”
June 20, 2016
June 13, 2016"I think about opening my mouth to call out goodbye, or to salute her in a traditional sign language farewell. Instead, I stand silently and smile."
Sally Hosokawa is a Community Fellow for Writers’ Group, a Swearer Center Community Program that facilitates creative writing workshops for adults with developmental disabilities. She studies literary translation in the Comparative Literature Department.
May 14, 2016“Club teachers understand us,” she says. “Even though they’re older, they’re not that much older, and so they’re like us and we can identify with them and talk to them about our problems.”
Addy is a volunteer with the Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring Program (BEAM), a Swearer Center community partnership that facilitates after-school programing activities and mentorship between Brown volunteers and students at William D’Abate Elementary School in the Olneyville neighborhood.
February 22, 2016
Pia is a junior double-concentrating in Education Studies and Comparative Literature. This is her third year with Writers' Group, a Swearer Center Community Program that offers creative writing workshops for adults with developmental disabilities, and her first year as a Swearer Center Community Fellow.
February 19, 2016I was intrigued by the program, but very intimidated by some of the topics. I’ve never been in the position to talk about gender or sexuality or rape culture.
Tiara came into Brown dead set on studying Neuroscience. After a summer or working with the local Planned Parenthood branch and taking health based classes she realized public health was her real calling. She has been volunteering for the SHAPE (Sexual Health Advocacy through Peer Education) program since sophomore year.
February 16, 2016