Due to recent changes to the SAT, ​high schools in low-income communities around the country are considering whether their students should take the ACT instead.

Both are standardized tests used by colleges as part of their admissions process and to determine the awarding of merit-based scholarships. SAT and ACT scores are often considered along with students’ GPA, academic transcript, and recommendations as part the admissions process. Some schools place more importance on scores from either test.

For many years the SAT has been criticized as a biased test that places minorities at a disadvantage through the inclusion of obscure vocabulary, culturally irrelevant references, and math equations far above grade level.

At Compton Unified School District’s (CUSD) high schools the answer is clear. Students should take both.

IMG_1705 (1)The controversy that has long surrounded the SAT is not lost on Centennial High School counselor Kim Cao, who said the test contains topics that aren’t normally covered in high school classrooms.

“It’s biased. Unless students take prep courses or participate in study programs that teach them strategies, students are unprepared. The ACT measures topics that students actually learn in high school versus the SAT, which does not,” she said.

“The SAT measures their critical thinking and goes beyond what is taught in high school. That’s why it is important to prep our students so they know how to take the SAT.”

Cao said the number of Centennial students signing up for both is rising.

“It’s something students can’t really avoid because it’s a part of college admissions requirements, but I always encourage them to take both the SAT and the ACT.”

​Compton High School counselor Heather Hodgson said that despite how the SAT may be perceived, any opportunity to help students get into the college of their choice is worth considering.

​“I advise all my students to take both the SAT and ACT because colleges will take the higher score of the two. There are private colleges that are leaning towards not requiring the SAT but for the most part universities still do,” she said.

“Telling students to do otherwise puts them at a disadvantage, and it takes an opportunity away from them. Most of our kids, especially those who are university bound, do take both tests.”

Although universities differ on what they consider to be an average or high score on the IMG_1742 (2)SAT and ACT, the perfect score on the SAT is 2,400 while 36 is the highest score on the ACT. Because some universities don’t weigh SAT writing scores, a perfect score can be 1,600.

Generally, a cumulative score of 1,490 or above is the national average for SAT scores, while a score of 20 or 21 is considered the national average for the ACT. A high SAT score is often considered 1,800 or above. A high ACT score is 24 or above.

Data on the 2014-15 SAT and ACT results have yet to be released by the California Department of Education. However, recent data shows the number of Compton Unified students taking both tests has grown.

In the 2013-14 school year 522 students took the SAT and over 281 took the ACT. The previous school year 382 students took the SAT and 228 took the ACT.

The number of students earning SAT scores of 1,500 or higher on the SAT has also increased between the 2012-13 (over 7%) and 2013-14 (over 12%) school year. In that time more Compton Unified students scored a 21 or higher on the ACT – 14.04% in 2012-13 and 14.59% in 2013-14.

In LA County the number of students with scores of 1,500 or more on the 2013-14 SAT was 39.27% and 46.15% statewide. That same year 45.05% of ACT test takers in LA county and 56.56% statewide scored a 21 or higher.

IMG_1616 (1)Compton High School 12th-grader Alonso Olvera said he took the SAT in December, before the new test was administered, but is still planning on taking the ACT in April. He also participates in his school’s Educational Talent Search (ETS), which helps students prepare for college.

“Our school’s college counselors helped me with online prep tests, so when I took the SAT I didn’t feel too much pressure,” he said. “There were still things on the test that I didn’t know. I had to take an educated guess.”

​Alexus Knox, a senior at Centennial High School, said she will be taking the new SAT this year after a poor performance in last year’s test.

​“I didn’t do so well the first time. I took it in November. The math part had stuff I didn’t really know like trigonometry. I did better on the reading and essay writing part,” she said.

“When I took the test the first time I didn’t study enough. I didn’t prep for it the way I should have. Now I’m going over booklets I got from my counselor. I heard students do better on the ACT, so I’m thinking of taking both now.”


Compton Unified high school students are encouraged to visit their school’s counseling or college office for SAT and ACT prep resources including practice test booklets. There are also several websites available where students can prepare for either test.

Beginning this year students who take the SAT prep tests including the PSAT/NMSQT/ PSAT 10, or PSAT 8/9 will receive an access code for free SAT study resources through Khan Academy.

Khan Academy

SAT Suite of Assessments – The College Board



UPCOMING SAT DATES – https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat

  • May 7, 2016 – Registration deadlines – April 8 / Late Registration deadlines – April 22 (Mail) / April 26 (Phone or Online)
  • June 4, 2016 – Registration deadlines – May 5 (Mail) and May 11 (Phone or Online) / Late Registration deadlines – May 20 (Mail) and May 25 (Phone or Online)

UPCOMING ACT DATES – www.act.org

  • April 9, 2016 – Late Registration deadline is on Friday, March 18. A fee is required.
  • June 11, 2016 – Registration deadline is May 6. Late Registration is from May 7 – 20. A fee is required.