Administration discusses impact of standardized test cancellations

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GRAPHIC BY JEREMIAH LEVY AND ELENA SU

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing guidelines have made it impossible for students to take the SAT and MCAS exams.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of the Spring 2020 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams. Similarly, the College Board has canceled their May and June Scholastic Assessment Tests (SAT) and SAT Subject Test dates, but is offering additional testing dates in September and October.

Nationwide, students have expressed concerns about standardized testing delays. The high school administration is working to mitigate the impact of these cancellations; in most cases, according to Assistant Head of School Hal Mason, these cancellations will affect the student body equally.

Science MCAS Cancellations
Science Curriculum Coordinator Ed Wiser said that the cancellation of the Physics MCAS poses significant problems for the Class of 2023, and for any other students who were planning to take a Science MCAS Exam this year.

According to Wiser, the school closures have meant that the science teachers have not managed to get through all the material they were originally planning to finish before the Physics MCAS exam.

“Now, if the kids were to take the Physics MCAS exam in October, they don’t have everything they need in order to be successful,” Wiser said. “Also, if they were to take Physics in the fall, that would be a problem, because they would be in Chemistry at that point.”

Although an apparent solution would be to have all current freshmen take the Chemistry MCAS exam during the spring of their sophomore year, Wiser also said that this arrangement would be problematic. According to Wiser, current freshmen will not be prepared to take the Chemistry MCAS exam in June 2021.

“The problem is that the Chemistry exam is terrible,” Wiser said. “We’ve been working on the new standards, but their exam assesses the old standards. It hasn’t been updated or revised, so students don’t have practice problems. And the Chemistry exam is much harder than the Physics exam.”

In an open letter to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), written by high school science coordinators across Massachusetts, Wiser highlighted the shortcomings of the Chemistry MCAS exam. He asked for a waiver of Competency Determination for all students, including underclassmen, who had been slated to take a Science MCAS exam in 2020. If this waiver is granted, it means that all such students will be able to graduate without passing the Science MCAS.

Mason said that seniors who have not yet taken a Science MCAS exam will still be able to graduate on time. On April 29, the Department of Education issued a statement clarifying that members of the Class of 2020 can still graduate without passing the MCAS if they have completed the corresponding high school English, math or science courses.

However, the administration has not yet been notified as to what exactly will happen with the Class of 2023 in regards to MCAS testing.

SAT and Subject Test Cancellations
The College Board’s SAT and SAT Subject Tests are widely used in college admissions. However, as the May 2 and June 6 testing dates have been canceled, students will not have an opportunity to take the SAT until August 29, 2020.

According to the College Board, registration information will be sent out on May 26. Priority will be given to students who were registered for the June SATs, as well as any juniors who have not yet taken the exam.

Junior Dani Coyle is planning on applying early to college. She has taken the SAT once before, but is planning on retaking it before sending in her college applications. She said the biggest impact of the cancellations has been on her stress.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, and it’s nerve-wracking to not know what’s going to happen,” Coyle said. “I think the biggest negative impact is honestly just on our mindsets. Second semester junior year is when you’re supposed to be in ‘college preparation mode,’ and I had a plan for how this year was going to play out, and I know a lot of other people did too. Now it’s just been interrupted.”

The tests were canceled in Brookline, just as they were canceled in Topeka, Kansas or Riverside, California. When the class of 2021 goes to apply for college, everyone will be in the same boat.”

— Assistant Head of School Hal Mason

Mason said that the College Board has made the correct decision in postponing the exams.

“There’s no current environment where it’s safe to put 25 kids and two adults in a room. There’s no way to administer these tests in the same way they have been administered in the past. Even in the gym, even if we put all the desks six feet apart, we would still be creating a dangerous situation,” Mason said.

Coyle also agrees with the College Board’s decision, noting that it was the only viable choice.

“They needed to cancel the tests in order to preserve the health of the community and of the nation. People’s health is most important,” Coyle said. “And I think that if it were online, the tech issues would be challenging and it would open up the testing process to a lot of issues. This is what had to happen.”

Mason believes that the SAT exam cancellations will have an “equivalently adverse” effect on everyone, and that colleges will adjust accordingly.

“The tests were cancelled in Brookline, just as they were canceled in Topeka, Kansas or Riverside, California. When the class of 2021 goes to apply for college, everyone will be in the same boat,” Mason said.

Mason advised current juniors to register for the SATs as soon as possible, so that they are able to take the exam in a convenient and familiar environment. This is especially important for students who are planning on applying to colleges during the Early Decision or Early Action rounds.

Some students who are planning on taking the SAT Subject Tests are worried that they have not yet been taught all the necessary material. Mason encouraged such students to reach out to their teachers for help and support.

“If I were a student, I would be raising any concerns specifically with my junior year teacher in this remote learning environment,” Mason said. “I would be saying, ‘Here’s something that’s going to be covered on the SATs, and we didn’t go over it in class yet. Can we go over it now?’”

Coyle also said that it would be helpful if the administration assisted students in studying for their standardized tests.

“I would like some help with planning out the next couple of months. A list of accessible resources would be helpful, or a model schedule for studying,” Coyle said. “But at the end of the day, I can’t be too frustrated. I know that this pandemic is causing so much destruction everywhere. I just want to make the most of the time I do have.”