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The Great Equalizer and the Epidemic


Fervent believer in meaningful conversation to provoke change. Always ready to talk politics, Parks and Rec., and ice cream flavors.

The severity of the coronavirus epidemic will wane. And someday, life will return to whatever fractionated version of normal the United States can muster. For many, this is a cause for celebration, but for millions of high school students facing independently unique circumstances, the future of testing requirements, credit checks and college applications loom closer and more enigmatic than ever.

On March 20th the College Board made some drastic changes to its testing schedules and requirements. Although the full extent of their policies will not be known until April 3rd, the College Board has already dramatically reduced the amount of material AP students are being tested on, as well as canceling the May SAT. The College Board has long faced scrutiny for its monopolization of education testing within the United States, however, in a time of crisis such as now, its failings are becoming more prominent than ever.

The College Board describes themselves as “a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success”, however when it comes to success, the students that most benefit from this $1.6 billion company are largely those from privileged backgrounds. For disenfranchised youth in America, the College Board’s $94 test fee for every AP test and $65 SAT fee is outrageous enough, with a majority relying instead on school run exams. In fact throughout the United States students from lower-income households are 4x less likely to pay to take the SAT more than once, if ever, outside of their schools. A majority of lower-income students take their tests within their schools.

And the date for in-school SAT testing?

May 2nd.

In circumstances like these and with a large majority of colleges still relying on SAT exams to make crucial admission calls, we can expect entire communities to again be left behind by a system that has failed to represent them.

The College Board is aiming to do better, that was the goal of limiting material taught on AP exams. They cut the exams down to where a majority of classes had gotten when schools started facing closures around the end of March. However, this may not be enough. All tests will now be conducted online and for the estimated 35% of students in the United States who still do not have access to broadband internet, their tests will be much more difficult to submit and complete within their homes. Not to mention their overall decrease in access to online mentorship, preparation and resources compared to their wealthier counterparts.

Then there’s the reliability of these new AP tests. AP exams exist as a means for high achieving high school students to earn college credit in order to take more difficult courses upon entering university. However, if a whole quarter of a class is no longer being taught in classrooms, if whole communities are going without access to this content, how can we expect them to be truly ready to jump into these courses in college? With this question in mind, lower-income households, households that are already less likely to have the tools necessary to succeed on these exams, are evaluating the benefits of taking these tests. However, if they decide it’s not worth it, they won’t get their money back.

The final policy change that the College Board made upon the news of the COVID-19 epidemic was that they would be waving test drop fees. Before this year the College Board was requiring an additional $45 fee on top of their $94 registration fee. In waving this fee they are making a pitiful attempt at helping out lower-income households. However, in a time when a record 3.3 million Americans are having to file for unemployment, the College Board ought to at least aim for partial reimbursement for households that have little to nothing to gain from a system that is now increasingly stacked against them.

None of these issues are new, they’re just exasperated by the current crisis. There is the argument that these tests still do provide a snapshot for universities to compare students based on a set of equal standards. These snapshots are used in making the admissions process quicker. Though this is an indisputable fact, these snapshots are not at all an accurate assessment on an individual’s ability to learn, instead, these exams exist only as a means to show how well an individual can perform on a standardized test.

In times of crisis, problems within our systems become ever more obvious. And with the COVID-19 epidemic, the United States will witness firsthand how the industrialization of education is deteriorating access for lower-class Americans. Now more than ever Americans need to pressure colleges to go test-optional. Now more than ever all students need to stand in solidarity with students whose access to education is threatened not only by COVID-19 but by a sick education system. It is only in this way that we will ever cure the industrialized epidemic plaguing the great equalizer in America.