College Board at Odds

On January 19, the College Board announced the complete discontinuation of the SAT Subject Tests and the SAT Essay in correspondence with their goal of aiding students during a pandemic-era college admissions process. 


“As students and colleges adapt to new realities and changes to the college admissions process, College Board is making sure our programs adapt with them,” said the College Board, in a statement on their website. “We’re making some changes to reduce demands on students.”


Students currently registered for a forthcoming Subject Test in the U.S. will have their registration canceled and fees refunded immediately, while international students will still be allowed to take or register for Subject Tests until June 2021. All students who signed up for a SAT with the Essay portion will be able to test until June 2021, along with the option to cancel the Essay portion with no penalty fees. 


Allen Guo ’21, a student who has previously taken SAT Subject Tests, believes that the College Board’s actions may be detrimental to students if they do not simultaneously set alternatives for students to show skill in particular areas or subjects.


“I believe the College Board is taking a step back by quickly canceling the SAT Essay and Subject Tests,” Guo said. “Especially in highly competitive major-specific college applications, these subjects are a way to show skill and commitment in subjects beyond the scope of the standard multiple choice SAT test.”


For students like Guo, the test cancelations come across as immediate and unpredictable. Yet, there are people who think The College Board is making positive progress. Due to the inherent biases that many feel exist in standardized testing, the exams aren’t widely regarded as a reliable metric of a student’s learning capacity.


Anthony Reibel, Stevenson’s Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning, believes that racial, geographic, and gender disparities are so prevalent within standardized test scores that they shouldn’t be used as a reliable metric of student learning and ability.


“By discontinuing these exams, the College Board is moving in the right direction,” Reibel said. “Eliminating certain aspects of standardized exams may lessen the reliance on these scores as principal indicators of student performance. It may help educators understand that service, authentic skill performance, and life experiences are better indicators of student learning.”


Staff who help students with college admissions at Stevenson’s College Career Center (CCC)  agreed. Sara English, a CCC post-secondary counselor, believes that the removal of the SAT Essay portion was the proper decision to make.


I think this is beneficial and appropriate to be removed,” English said. “Most colleges have not been using this score, and have not required it for admission. Most schools feel that putting much value in a quickly written prompt at the end of several hours of testing is not an accurate depiction of a student’s ability.”


With the removal of the Essay portion and the Subject Tests, more weight might be placed on other standardized tests such as AP Tests or the other sections of the SAT. Ultimately, the removal of the SAT Essay and Subject Tests might hint towards the end of standardized testing as a whole, as more and more colleges are removing standardized testing requirements. 


“We are seeing a wave of schools starting to go test-blind, which means they will not consider a test score Cal Tech’s 2-year trial, the University of California system, and Northern Illinois University are a few,” English said. “I think we are still at the very beginning of this, and the writing isn’t on the wall, but I think the next few years will be pivotal in standardized testing.”


Even before the College Board’s announcement, many college and testing experts like English and Reibel consider removal of the Subject Tests and Essay portion a notable step towards making the college admissions process more equitable, universal and holistically oriented. Ultimately, they feel that students are more than just a number on a test. 


“The keyword is ‘potential.’ The dictionary defines potential as, ‘Showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future,’” Reibel said. “This definition is important because, in my opinion, standardized exams do not provide evidence of potential. They provide evidence of performance in that particular moment. Academic institutions and organizations must understand that students are more than test scores. Each student is a complex, colorful, and ever-changing individual who should be respected as such, in all aspects of our society, most importantly in college admissions.”