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Will Coronavirus Kill Standardized Testing?

A possible silver lining amid the pandemic.

The conflict against standardized testing has been occurring for years now, with many criticizing tests such as the SAT’s and ACT’s as both inaccurate representations of students’ ability to perform well in school and non-indicative of students’ strengths and weaknesses. Those who succeed on the SAT and ACT’s are usually children whose parents were able to hire expensive tutors or enroll them in prep classes and those who may be able to “crack” the test, rather than those who cannot afford tutors or who are possibly unable to spend all of their time studying for the SAT and ACT because they have to care for their siblings. 

Both tests, which require long periods of time to study for along with regular school work, also cost nearly one hundred dollars simply to take, plus more fees if one wants to look at their mistakes after the tests. Many colleges and universities which used to require SAT and ACT scores to apply have since rescinded this prerequisite and have become “test-optional,” instead of asking students to send in an essay from their junior year of high school rather than their test scores. Schools such as Brandeis University and Wesleyan University are among the schools that have stopped asking students for their test scores.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic steadily worsening, many high school juniors who have spent months studying for these tests are worried they may never actually get a chance to take them, as large gatherings have been forbidden and schools are taking place online. The College Board, which had canceled its March and May SAT dates and recently its June date, also moved the Advanced Placement standardized tests to later, online-only versions.

In a statement sent out by the College Board on Wednesday, April 15, the Board noted that “If it’s safe from a public health standpoint, we’ll provide weekend SAT administrations every month through the end of the calendar year, beginning in August. This includes a new administration in September, in addition to the previously scheduled tests…In the unlikely event that schools don’t reopen this fall, the College Board will provide a digital SAT for home use, much as we’re delivering digital exams for three million Advanced Placement students this spring. As we’re doing with at-home AP Exams, we would ensure that at-home SAT testing is simple; secure and fair; accessible to all; and valid for use in college admissions.”

Of course, online SATs still pose a large problem to many. The glaring issue is, of course, the aspect of cheating; in the wake of last year’s college admissions scandal, it is unclear how the College Board will be able to administer perfectly secure online tests. There are still many questions left unanswered, too; will the tests be slightly shorter? Will there be multiple choice questions? Would students still have to pay? Will they have the same value to colleges that they have in the past?

Some schools, in the wake of the pandemic, have already gone test-optional for those applying in the fall of 2020. The entire University of California and University of North Carolina systems have gotten rid of their testing requirement, as well as schools such as Boston University and Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Tufts University, one of the most competitive schools in the nation, recently declared that it will be test-optional for two years longer, with no testing requirement for those entering in the fall of 2021 and 2022.

The death of standardized testing, however, is not to be mourned. The SAT and ACT’s have long been markers of not someone’s intellectual ability, but rather, one’s racial and economic status. At-risk children who live in poorer areas of the country and who cannot afford tutors or even the fee of the test are usually those who are not white, and they end up being at an extreme disadvantage when they cannot take these tests. 

“Over 815 four-year colleges and universities across the U.S., acting on the belief that “test scores do not equal merit,” do not use the SAT or ACT to make admissions decisions about a substantial number of their incoming freshmen classes. These institutions range widely in size and mission. Schools that have made standardized tests optional for admissions are widely pleased with the results,” The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, an organization dedicated to making schools go test-optional, states on their website. “Many report their applicant pools and enrolled classes have become more diverse without any loss in academic quality. “Test score optional” policies promote both equity and excellence. Dropping tests leads to greater diversity because the focus on test scores deters otherwise qualified minority, low-income, first-generation, female and other students from applying.” 

Whether or not the coronavirus pandemic will genuinely lead to the end of the standardized testing era and into the era of “test-optional” colleges and universities is unclear at this point. It would definitely, however, be a step in the right direction, towards increasing diversity and fairness in colleges and universities across the country.

Samantha Rigante is a junior at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, N.J.

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