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Over the past several months, the College Board has itself been put to the test. The pandemic-ridden world – marked by heightened student anxieties, aggravated inequities, and the eruption of online schooling – has shaken the foundations of standardized testing and college admissions.
The initial changes were pronounced yet provisional: In the fall, the College Board faced test sites closures across the country, sending away hundreds of thousands of students registered for the SAT exam. Against this backdrop, colleges across the country have chosen to go test-blind for the second year in a row.
Many predicted that the pandemic would force the College Board to invoke more permanent change – to engage in careful reconsideration of its procedures and principles for the long term. Finally, in deciding to scrap the SAT with essay and the SAT Subject Tests, it has begun to do just that.
Through this decision, the College Board has at last begun to pivot away from perpetuating a set of tedious, arbitrary requirements that have historically impeded students’ ability to go to college.
As we have opined before, the rubric of the SAT essay is unnecessarily unclear, subjective, and obscure; it seems to punish creativity and abstract thinking. Beyond that, the purported purpose of testing is at its core to encourage students to learn from their mistakes, but the score reports from the SAT essay include virtually no substantial feedback. What value lies in granting a 17-year-old student an inexplicably low score for an essay that, while potentially well-written and poised, fails to meet the standards of a paradoxically vague yet hyper-specific grading rubric? Such limitations aren’t just reductive – they’re inherently antithetical to all that a holistic and dynamic education is supposed to embody.
The SAT Subject Tests, too, place undue stress upon already overburdened high school students. In testing the minute specifics of broad subjects, the SAT Subject Tests prioritize memorization rather than reason, often allowing obscure, limited facts to eclipse spirited academic explorations. In practice, they add to the long list of exams that students must take in their second half of high school with, to our minds, little to no apparent pedagogical benefit: For many of the offered subjects, the College Board offers a standardized curriculum in the form of Advanced Placement — but then tests it separately.
Before the College Board made this decision, colleges often presented a laundry list of testing requirements, creating impossible roadblocks for many students – especially those already most vulnerable to unfair admissions processes. Some schools, for instance, recently required three SAT Subject Tests despite the fact that preparing for and taking these tests can often place a financial burden upon families. Such requirements, then, unreservedly preclude a considerable number of students from simply applying to certain colleges. The new decision will make it slightly more difficult for colleges to set up such arbitrary barriers and unfair, vexing obstructions.
Both the essay and the Subject Tests invoked simmering pressure and seething stress, and they loaded students with an additional financial burden that their families oftentimes struggled to carry; clearly, these tests won’t be missed. Still, the college application process remains remarkably tainted, and much work remains if the College Board is to truly help make college admissions more inclusive, accessible, and reasonable.
The eradication of the SAT Subject Tests will undoubtedly make the imperfect AP program much more high stakes and amplify its flaws. AP exams restrict and place pressure upon students who cannot take them, either because their school doesn’t offer these advanced classes, or because they cannot afford to pay the hefty $95 standard fee and may be ill-positioned to obtain a fee waiver.
Moving forward, the College Board must also think deliberately and responsibly about its treatment of international students. With the removal of the SAT essay and Subject Tests, international students have been stripped of one of the few metrics through which they could be plainly compared to American students. If the College Board insists on retaining AP tests, they should ensure their availability for international students who often don’t have access to AP curriculums or exams within their high schools and increase their accessibility for those who cannot afford the even higher testing fee of $135 for students outside of the United States and Canada.
The College Board’s choice to slay the SAT essay and Subject Test is a step in the right direction — a step towards making college admissions slightly more equitable, accessible, and oriented towards diversity. Let us hope, though, that this small step will commence a much broader series of changes in college admissions — changes such as reconsidering the role of AP tests, finding ways to make the application process more accessible for international students, and eliminating any and all roadblocks that would preclude any student from applying to college.
The College Board may have passed its first test, but reforming standardized testing and college admissions is a long and challenging course.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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