Nearing the conclusion of the SAT debacle

In light of the lockdown measures taken by schools across California, some students are resorting to desperate measures in order to take standardized tests. The most dedicated and eager of them are traveling out of state to places as far as the Midwest to find testing locations that are not already fully booked by other opportunistic California students. In the midst of this scramble to take these tests, it becomes clear that standardized testing is an industry with a profit motive at heart. 

The most obvious difference to note is that the students who travel out of state are the ones who both have the financial ability and the dedication to taking these tests. The SAT has long been a storied benchmark of student performance, and although many colleges like the University of California system have dropped the standard in light of the pandemic, many students are still scrambling to take it because of the lucrative scholarship and private school applications that require it. The College Board’s response to both the ongoing pandemic and the growing backlog of students who have been waiting to take the SAT since March has been less than adequate. Instead of spreading out to more testing locations or finding other measures to at least ease the strain of having half a year’s worth of test takers to satisfy, the College Board attempts to individualize their issues, letting the blame be placed on schools and other testing sites for closing down over concerns of health risks. If this is not a brazenly cynical move to keep costs for administering the test low, this line of action is at least a form of gross administrative incompetence, especially for a test that many students need in order to apply for scholarships and their preferred colleges. 

Furthermore, the drastic change in the availability of these tests calls into question just how good of a measure of performance they are. The SAT has always had a vibrant industry of prep classes behind it, reinforcing the notion that students need not be particularly bright or hard working to score well, but only to have the cash and time to burn in the months leading up to their testing date. With the decline of instructional quality due to many underprivileged school districts lacking access to adequate distance learning resources, the SAT has become even more stratified by wealth, and the challenge of accessing the test this year has made the issue even worse. 

Another question that must be asked is how much viability do standardized tests have left in the American education system. With many colleges moving to make their admissions process more holistic in the last two decades, requiring students to develop every aspect of their life besides academics, the emphasis on data like test scores has been dwindling for a while now, for better or worse. The use of academic marks like the grade point average are still important in deciding entry for regular applicants, but the relevance of standardized testing in measuring raw academic performance is increasingly being strained by the many contradictions inherent in America’s current standardized testing system. 

Of course, the College Board’s decision to not take the SAT online for the pandemic was not a bad one by any means. The lessons learned during the 2020 AP testing fiasco prove that online testing is not a preferable or even passable alternative to in-person tests, and the last thing students need this year is for their scores to be erroneously invalidated by technical glitches and poor website interfacing. However, the current line of action the College Board is taking is not only insufficient in providing for the students that have been impacted by the pandemic, it has uncovered the deepest flaw in the American education system: one of its core components is less of an institution than an industry.

By Jason Wu, Opinion editor
Photo courtesy of Pxhere