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The Inequities Of AP And SAT Exams Amid Covid-19

Last week, The College Board announced plans to develop at-home AP Exams while the May SAT will be postponed until until further notice. In contrast, President Trump announced on March 20th that the U.S. Department of Education will not require state standardized testing in public schools for students in elementary through high school. Now that the federal government has relaxed state testing for the 2019-2020 school year, it is time to rethink the standardized test structure for college admissions-focused tests, such as AP Exams, the SAT, and the ACT. Eliminating or postponing these tests must be done through a lens of equity and resource allocation. 

While innovation in instruction and learning is happening daily, the transition to virtual learning also has the potential to exacerbate two existing inequities and opportunity gaps that surround standardized testing, particularly those resulting from the SAT, ACT, and AP exams. The first inequity is lack of access to internet based learning platforms. Unfortunately, the transition to online learning has already proven the glaring reality of the digital divide and illuminated barriers to educational opportunity in terms of access to broadband for students who are not equipped with Wi-fi at home. Libraries and community centers that would have been a resource for students to access Wi-fi for test preparation, are now closed. If AP Exams and SAT testing are moved online, not all students will have consistent internet access to the virtual lessons that can help prepare them for the tests, let alone access to the tests themselves in a web-based format. 

The second existing inequity, made more evident in the transition to online learning, is the issue of access to effective test-prep. Standardized tests such as the SAT and AP exams are gatekeeping tests that have long made clear the presence of opportunity gaps and unequal resources, including access to extensive test preparation programs, tutors, and quality academic coursework. SAT performance is more of an indicator of a student’s socio-economic status and zip code than an indicator of future college success. When The College Board announced that they would consider a move to online operations at the end of the spring term, backlash from students and teachers was swift. Criticism focused on potential inequities that standardized testing from home would perpetuate, including concerns about unequal access to quality digital learning to prepare for testing.

These two inequities are long standing, but we must also reckon with the reality that standardized testing, as is, serves to perpetuate inequities in education. In the transition to online learning during a pandemic, students are concerned about their ability to learn meaningful information in a virtual format, which is far removed from traditional academic supports and resources. If The College Board delivers virtual AP and SAT tests in May of 2020 as planned, there will be no way to ensure the integrity of administration of these tests, universal access to the online format, or that all students have had the opportunity to prepare sufficiently. 

I predict that we will see clear gaps in achievement between students who have high quality online instruction, high quality test preparation, and unlimited access to computers and Wi-fi and those students who have little or no access to those resources. The SAT with an essay component costs $64.50 and each AP exam costs $94. In the interest of profit over equity, at-home testing administered by The College Board will perpetuate longstanding gaps in achievement and success between well-resourced students and those who lack access to high quality education and test preparation in the transition to remote learning, not to mention the costs of the tests themselves in these perilous economic times.  

Mansfield University in Pennsylvania acted quickly to waive SAT and ACT requirements for admission decisions in the fall of 2020. Other colleges and universities should follow suit in dropping SAT and ACT testing requirements for all applicants, at least for the upcoming class. It will be imperative that institutions of higher education collaborate with state K-12 systems to determine the basis of admission requirements and alternative benchmarks of success for the current high school juniors who will apply to colleges next year. Perhaps it is time to re-examine the need for college admissions tests like the SAT and ACT moving forward. 

The response to Covid-19 has heightened general awareness of existing barriers to success in the realm of standardized testing. The ways we assess college readiness and learning in this time will either exacerbate the current inequitable access to internet and test preparation or adapt to provide an opportunity to rethink standardized testing altogether. We need to consider appropriate benchmarks of student achievement in an unfamiliar system that has already struggled to provide universal access to educational opportunity. This period of history has the potential to transform both instructional practices and the way we assess student learning, but only time will tell. 

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