With all schools in New Jersey in distance learning mode, the dedicated staff of Columbia High School’s award-winning student newspaper, The Columbian, proudly present their third on-line edition at thecolumbianchs.
The College Board is a non-profit organization “that connects students to college success and opportunity,” according to their mission statement. Most students applying to college are familiar with the College Board because it is the company that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) tests. If COVID-19 was not a factor, now would be the time for many juniors and rising underclassmen to start pouring their heart and soul into acing standardized tests to impress their desired colleges. Kirah Tianga, ‘21, said, “I think we’ve been trained to think that a big part of college admissions is dependent on your AP, SAT and ACT test scores because highly selective colleges accept a larger percentage of students with higher scores.” Having impressive test scores and course selections are major factors in college admissions, both of which involve the College Board.
However, due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic many universities have declared themselves test-optional to accommodate for the recent cancellations of the SAT and ACT. It is still unclear what policies many schools will adopt; many are considering completely wiping testing requirements, while others are implementing test-optional policies for only 2021.
The College Board has paved its way to a massive role in college admissions and has, to some extent, monopolized the system of education. A similar program to the AP curriculum is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. However, the IB is not as widely used in US schools as the AP curriculum. 1,839 schools offer the IB program according to their website. In comparison, more than 20,000 US schools administered the AP program in 2018 according to the College Board. In addition, it is often recommended to send in AP exam scores to acquire college credit and SAT subject tests are required for application at many prestigious institutions.
Most colleges accept a score from either the College Board’s SAT, or a separate but comparable test, the ACT. However, according to USNews, in 2018, 2.1 million students took the SAT and just 1.9 million students took the ACT.
Each SAT test costs $52, or $68 with an additional essay portion, which some universities require. At Columbia High School (CHS) and around the country, students come from varying socioeconomic statuses, putting many at a disadvantage when it comes to taking the test. At CHS, 18.5% of the CHS student body was considered economically disadvantaged (2017-2018). “I don’t think it’s fair that people with a larger amount of money have access to better resources than [other] people that attend the same school,” Tianga stated. Some students acquire private tutors, test-prep books and access to online services. This is not the case for many as Tianga added, “Even in schools like CHS, there is a large number of students that have varying household incomes, and there are large gaps leading to a divide in testing equality.”
Many students are hooked on the idea that even with impressive extracurriculars and a robust GPA, a test score can dictate between an acceptance and a rejection. Carly Lerman, ‘20, stated, “I wanted to get into my top school so bad that I took the ACT five times to increase my score.” Mikeala Finch, ‘21, elaborated on this and said, “We spend 12 years in school to have our future decided on one two-hour test. You could try your best throughout high school and because you may not be a good test taker, your future is completely altered.”
This is a common reality. According to USNews, colleges receive on average up to 80,000 applications each year from students around the globe with different grading policies and schooling. The SAT allows for comparison of students on the basis of one test format, presumably making it a more accurate representation of a student’s intelligence.
The College Board has power in the admissions process through test scores, and also carries an invisible hand in many high school curriculums, dictating the information taught in AP courses. One of the main purposes of AP classes is to acquire college credit when one takes the AP exam at the end of the year. At most colleges, students can gain credit by receiving a four or a five on their exam graded on a one to five scale. Finch stated, “Not scoring well essentially is putting the [money] to waste.”
Each college differs with which AP course and scores are qualifiable for credit, which may result in many students ending up with little to no credit after paying a hefty test fee. Due to the 2020 AP test changes, there is uncertainty whether colleges will accept AP scores the same as they have in previous years. In response to the uncertainty, the College Board stated, “We’re confident that the vast majority of Higher Ed institutions will award credit as they have in the past. We’ve spoken with hundreds of institutions across the country who support our solution for this year’s AP Exams.”
This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the College Board decided to switch their plans for their tests. Since AP testing could no longer be face-to-face, tests were modified to be virtual and shorter. The AP Studio Art portfolio was changed from 15 pieces to 10 with the deadline pushed back, The United States Government and Politics exam covered fewer topics and the AP Calculus BC exam was shortened to only open-ended questions, as were many other exams. Miki Sakai, ‘21, said her AP English Language and Composition test got changed from being three essays and a series of multiple choice questions to just one essay. Sakai’s experience mirrors that of many AP students as all aspects of each AP test were reduced, except for the price.
These changes produced different responses from students. “The tests ended up being much easier than everyone expected, especially since they were only 45 minutes,” said Alex Goodman, ‘21. The shorter tests made it easier for him to study for his BC Calculus and U.S. History exams. Marcus Wright, ‘21, who took three exams this year, had an opposing take. “Testing a year’s worth of knowledge in just 40-45 minutes and only one to two questions is completely unfair and nonsensical. I feel like even though it would be inconvenient, a test that was two hours long would be a much better test of knowledge and skill,” he said.
According to the College Board, this year, around 4.6 million tests were taken across 32 different subjects online. Since all participants were using a single site, problems arose. Issues came when students attempted to submit their work for their tests. Test-takers were required to type their responses using external media, such as Google Documents, then copy and paste or upload the text into the College Board website, or write their answers on a separate sheet of paper and attach a picture of it. Melanie Spiegel, ‘21, had an issue during her AP Chemistry exam. “It wouldn’t let me submit my answers. I left plenty of time to submit but every time I would hit the submit button nothing would happen, it was like the screen was unresponsive.” The College Board set up a response form immediately following the test so that makeups due to technical difficulties could be processed. For some, making up the test wasn’t enough. As reported by Forbes, a class action lawsuit was recently filed against the College Board for gross negligence and misrepresentation, amongst other things for this year’s block of testing. Prosecutors are asking for 500 million dollars in monetary relief as a result of students having to retake their tests in June due to various technical difficulties and issues.
The College Board’s monopoly of testing has netted them $1.07 billion per year, according to their website. The CEO, David Coleman, reported earnings of $750,000 a year on top of executives making a generous salary of more than $300,000 a year (Patch). As many students continue to struggle to compensate for these tests, the revenue of the College Board—a non-profit—continues to increase, but at what cost to the students? “The College Board lacks understanding and allows the students to suffer from their unpreparedness,” Wright said. “The corporation is too focused on money to help students they claim to be working for.”