- High School
Anyone who has ever taken the SAT would know the tension in its test centers: the sound of pencils sliding roughly on the thick paper, the heavy breaths, and the constant ticking of the clock. The SAT/ACT are standardized tests that determine students’ academic ability and potential. Thus, both test scores are used for college admission decisions and scholarship awards, becoming a vital factor to consider when deciding college paths. Emma Goldberg from the New York Times states that “taking the SAT has become a rite of passage, as essential to the high school experience as prom”. Unfortunately, these vital examinations were suspended in approximately 17 countries during the spring of 2020 due to the need for COVID-19 precautions.
Why are some test centers open while others are closed? There is no doubt that certain areas have different regulations in response to the ongoing pandemic. Social distancing guidelines and unexpected closures are common concerns in the community nowadays; as a result, test centers either completely close down or have limited seating capacity for students. Not surprisingly, there were countless cases of SAT/ACT cancellations where students received last-minute notices from test centers regarding these decisions. In one case, in July 2020, “students showed up at their testing centers only to be told that their exam had been canceled, and around 1,400 examinees (at approximately 21 sites) for the ACT were not able to test”.
Nevertheless, there was still a way to take the SAT/ACT. Matthew Chekhlov, a 16-year-old who endured roughly twenty cancellations for both the SATs and ACTs over the past six months, finally took his SAT by traveling nine hours from New York to Lancaster, Ohio. It was also confirmed that many students from New York City were traveling as far as Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Arizona, and Maine, although there was no guarantee that the tests were available. However, it is crucial to take note that not every student is privileged enough to purchase a plane ticket. Considering these situations, especially to benefit lower-income students that cannot go to another state and take the test, all SAT/ACT centers must re-open. A growing number of colleges, including the University of Illinois and Harvard University, began acknowledging that the shutdown of test centers had created insurmountable challenges for students, particularly those from modest economic backgrounds.
Due to these unprecedented circumstances, College Board, the overseeing entity of the SAT, has decided to make “fair” changes to “show flexibility” towards testing requirements, by asking colleges to “extend deadlines for receiving test scores and to equally consider students, who were unable to take the test, for admission”. However, does this sound fair? There is no denying that this modification is so far the fairest among those who were not allowed to take SAT/ACTs.
Although submitting the scores is a decision by choice, the distribution of time between the groups of students differ greatly. As preparation for these standardized tests is both time-consuming and exhausting, these test-optional policies may be a drawback to many students as some may have fully focused on preparing for their upcoming SAT/ACTs rather than maintaining high GPAs. One high school senior in California had his first attempt at taking the SAT canceled in March; in disappointment, he said, “I’d been prepping for a while”. To prevent any further cases where students end up wasting time studying for the tests, all test centers should be open while maintaining the COVID-19 precautions.
The fundamental reason why any of the test centers should not close down is that without standardized tests, there is no fully objective way to evaluate the students. The GPA and SAT scores do not indicate the same academic evidence; the GPA assesses students’ academic performance and growth, while the test results estimate the academic potential. If colleges receive undergraduates based on their GPAs only, their successes are most likely uncertain as GPAs are heavily dependent on the schools. A study done through 423 students in a school suggested that students’ “prosocial and antisocial behavior (in class) related significantly to GPA” and that “teachers’ preferences for students, IQ, family structure, sex, ethnicity, and days absent from school” are also taken into account. Although college admissions consider other components such as extracurriculars or essays, the SAT/ACT are necessary to compare each student’s academic potential on a global scale rather than using the GPA, which can be inaccurate at times.
The closure of test centers brings multiple challenges to students. Low-income students cannot purchase plane tickets to travel to another state and take the test. College admissions were made “test-optional”, resulting in SAT/ACTs becoming voluntary, and students that prepared ended up losing time. College acceptance results heavily based on GPAs are especially unfair as GPAs may vary depending on the schools. Up until now, “more than 500 colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies because hundreds and thousands of SAT and ACT sessions have been canceled,” said the New York Times. Nonetheless, every SAT/ACT center must be open as the standardized tests serve as an important piece of evidence to justify a student’s academic potential.