Testing During a Pandemic, But Not the Medical Kind

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Grace Kim, Co-News Editor

In the past, standardized testing was a critical assessment for students, especially during their senior year. 

But in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, many states decided to shut down some or all schools in order to protect the health and safety of students and educators. This resulted in one test cancellation after another. 

In March, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that students impacted by school closures can bypass standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year. “Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn,” said Secretary DeVos. “Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations. Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time.”   

But for students, especially high school seniors, the inability to take the test was a new problem added on to the already existing pressure of completing college applications. 

“At first, I was calm,” said Luke Hermann (Adv. 104). “However, as time went on, I felt fear. Tests in March moved back to April, then moved back to May, then eventually cancelled indefinitely. I was spending weeks preparing for tests that would be cancelled just a few days before the testing date.” 

“Honestly I was very worried about the SAT before COVID,” said Megan Gonzalez (Adv. 108). “With the test cancellations I became doubly worried. I also felt as though I had to figure out how to boost the rest of my application.” 

I was spending weeks preparing for tests that would be cancelled just a few days before the testing date

Previously, test scores had been one of the major components of an application as they were a requirement for some colleges and universities. But in response to the massive waves of test cancellations, schools like Yale, Northeastern, and Pomona that had previously required scores, have adopted new test-optional policies for the Class of 2021. 

Being test-optional does not mean students are not allowed to send scores. Rather, students now have a choice whether they want to include test results in their applications, and they will not be penalized if they choose not to do so. 

Seeing as high test results could have deterred students from applying to certain schools before, the new test-optional policy might be an encouraging factor. 

“My test scores were some of the things I was fearing schools might reject me by,” said Umar Khan (Adv. 101) “But now that nearly everything is test optional I can just choose to send [my scores] in if they are decent.” 

“Schools going test optional definitely makes me feel like I can apply to more schools, specifically prestigious ones,” said Medina Karic (Adv. 103). “Now, without the requirement of scores, I feel that my other academic and personal achievements can stand out a lot more.” 

Since March, many test centers have reopened with limited capacity for students but under the possibility of sudden test cancellations. In order to fulfill the Illinois graduation requirement, Northside was one of many schools that opened its doors Wednesday, September 23, for seniors to take the SAT. 

For some, this was the second or maybe third time taking the SAT, but for others who have faced multiple test cancellations already, it was their first and maybe only chance to take it. There were mixed responses to this announcement. 

“It was helpful that Northside was administering the SAT,” said Hermann. “However, I wish I knew earlier that they planned on letting us take it. Even weeks prior, I was getting mixed email responses about what was going to happen. It would have saved me a lot of stress to know earlier that we would be taking the SAT.”

“We were told about the test just a few weeks before, and I felt really overwhelmed and nervous, realizing that I didn’t study,” said Karic. However, the school administered test proved beneficial for her, “I had signed up for two dates on my own, but both were cancelled soon after. I still wanted to take the test and possibly submit a score, so this was helpful for me.” 

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Aside from fulfilling a graduation requirement, having the SAT administered at Northside gave seniors a chance to reunite with their friends and revisit the school for the first time in six months. 

“I have never felt such a surge of happiness, and the rush of adrenaline in my veins while wanting to cry and hug everyone at the same time ever before,” said Khan. 

“Although we were all socially distanced and wearing masks, it was so nice to just be able to see and talk to everybody in-person,” said Gonzalez.

As the test results get released and the first set of college application deadlines approaches, seniors will soon have to make a decision. In these unprecedented times, it will be difficult not to focus on the uncontrollable aspects of life. 

“Take things one… at a time,” said Gonzalez. “So you don’t overload yourself but you feel productive.”