Dear College Board: we need modified tests for modified learning

Editorial Staff

As of Jan. 19, the College Board will no longer offer SAT Subject Tests. As a part of their initiative to “reduce the demands on students,” the College Board has also discontinued the SAT essay. However, what is missing from this recent announcement is any semblance of hope that the Advanced Placement (AP) tests may be modified. Before this January, Subject Tests served as a way for students to “showcase their skills” in individual subjects for the college admissions process, and AP test scores, taken to receive credit for college courses, were only submitted if students felt confident in their performance.

Illustration by Kalyn Dawes

Unfortunately, this latest development, or lack thereof, regarding AP tests comes at a time of raging inequality in students’ ability to prepare for examinations. The Bark urges the College Board to lessen the amount of content that students will need to learn and reduce submission requirements to uphold AP classes’ true purpose, alleviate stress and level the playing field. 

Last May, AP students took their exams from home in a modified format. A common experience among over 400,000 students worldwide was that of being painfully alone and utterly unprepared for their 45-minute exam. Thankfully, there was less content as a result of lost class time due to distance learning. Despite the testing accommodations, many still felt dismayed, either by countless historical events, mathematical functions or laws of physics that they vaguely reviewed online. One can only imagine what those 400,000 plus students would feel like if the test had been full-length and full-content. Apparently, we’ll find this out this May. 

The College Board officially announced on Dec. 18 that colleges and universities expect the 2021 exams “to reflect the full scope of the AP coursework.” In other words, there will be no shortened exams, even though many students haven’t returned to campus at all since March 2020.

A study published in the journal Science Education in December 2008 examined two sets of high school science students. One set “sprinted,” and the other set had teachers who slowed down, went deeper and did not cover as much material. Unsurprisingly, the first group of students actually scored higher on the state tests at the end of the year. What stood out was that the students who learned through the slower approach earned higher grades once they made it to college. This means that speeding up the pace at which AP courses are taught will detract from AP courses’ true purpose: to give students an in-depth education on subjects they already love. Students are not grasping the content –– they’re quickly memorizing instead of critically analyzing.

Among other AP teachers, Lindsey Kornfeld, who teaches AP U.S. History, has concerns over the limited class time available during remote learning. In normal conditions, we have 234 minutes of each class per week; however, online learning cuts this to 180 minutes, or more than an hour less each week. Students are feeling the strain of these shorter classes. In the January 2021 Bark survey, 37 percent of AP students said they weren’t confident in their ability to pass the full-length exam.

AP classes are known to be fast-paced to get students prepared for a college course’s rigor and speed; however, shortened class periods have created gaps in the AP curriculum. In a survey of Redwood teachers that teach AP courses, 67 percent responded that their course was at least two weeks behind the schedule of an in-person year and 19 percent said that they were four or more weeks behind. As a result, teachers are rushing through units to cover the required material, and students are not absorbing the information they need to.

“The pace that [students] have to be on for this semester is what I have a problem with. If they have to stay at this pace, it’s a little unfair,” Kornfeld said. “The hard part as a teacher is to sit there and look at student mental health versus the worth of the score.”

Undoubtedly, administering tests during a pandemic puts the College Board in a difficult situation –– however, they could look to other educational programs, such as the International Baccalaureate Organization (IB), for guidance. According to Laterna, an IB service provider, IB has removed or amended parts of their final exams for 2021 to reduce the amount of content that students will need to get through. For example, in their Language A: Language and Literature course, they removed two final paper requirements. Ignoring the better actions of similar establishments proves that the College Board lacks sympathy for students. 

In dealing with our own struggles, we also must put ourselves in the shoes of those who are less privileged than us. Some students across the country will not only have to take their full-length exams in a public setting, where Wi-Fi access may be spotty and environmental factors will likely be distracting, but also do not have access to the same quality of education as we have at Redwood, one of California’s top public schools. College Board, we call on you to reduce content requirements and modify AP exams this spring to ensure equality, promote AP courses’ original objective and mitigate students’ and teachers’ stress.