October 29, 2020

Good Riddance, College Board

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by Isabelle Pappas 

The class of 2025 will be applying to college in the midst of a global pandemic, and Cornell has chosen to relieve the single most stressful aspect of the college application process: standardized testing. The Sun reported back in April that Cornell would be the first Ivy League institution to waive the standardized testing requirement for both early and regular decision applicants in this year’s admission’s cycle. All eight other Ivies quickly followed suit, but Cornell will be remembered as the one that paved the path. Despite its revolutionary implications, though, “Cornell will not go test-optional permanently.” This announcement was disappointing to me and, I’m sure, to many other prospective applicants looking ahead to a post-pandemic world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to slow down and reflect on our old ways of life, but contemplation loses its significance if action is not simultaneously taken to reflect our newfound wisdom. After all the deliberation on self and society that came out of this pandemic, Cornell admissions must now go against their standardized testing policy and eliminate the SAT and ACT requirement all together.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, society placed unprecedented levels of importance on public health, both physical and mental. Social isolation and uncertain futures have forced our generation to evaluate, more than ever before, the status of our mental health. Likewise, it’s no secret that standardizing testing has had detrimental effects on student mental health for as long as it’s been around, almost a century now. Students dedicate entire academic years and summers off to tutoring sessions for this single four hour test, just to be cheated by a bad curve on the final day of the test. Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Forget the final four hour test — the entire test prep process is enough to make a student go insane.

Testing capitalizes on students who suffer from testing anxiety, with the ticking of the clock in students’ own heads increasing exponentially with their pulse rate. According to The University Star, 10 to 40 percent of students experience testing anxiety, and even more than that for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT. The implication of a test that equates a student’s potential candidacy to a single numerical value is huge. Too soon into the process, students become so fixated on obtaining a certain score that they tend to forget the entire purpose of taking the test. 

Standardized testing has false implications; it does little to weed out the weak, instead merely pitting peers against each other in a race against time. The SAT and ACT cater to only one type of test-taker: not the most innovative and intelligible student, but rather the one who is able to fill in the most bubbles in the least amount of time, and, more importantly, guess correctly.  In fact, critical thinking is discouraged by a test in which A, B, C or D must be right when none of the options ever seem quite right. 

According to The New York Times, standardized testing also disproportionately hurts minorities and BIPOC when administrators of  particular BIPOC-populated districts tend to redirect their focus from quality education to standardized test prep. Allocating the educational resources for disadvantaged districts to test-taking alone is not an effective use of already sparse supplies or funding. Additionally, standardized testing is only available to those who can afford the testing fees. Simply sitting for one test won’t improve your chances of getting into Cornell, but paying for months of one-on-one tutoring sessions and taking the test two or three times to yield the best possible curve might. Thus, to make the SAT or ACT an admissions requirement would be to discourage disadvantaged groups from applying to Cornell at the onset of their college search. If Cornell is truly committed to its motto “any person, any study,” they need to amend their admissions process to reflect this newfound commitment.

Over the past few months in quarantine, Americans have taken to criticizing their own institutions. Assessing all aspects of society, from the criminal justice system to educational institutions, we’ve exposed an overwhelming amount of systemic oppression in our so-called land of promise. The youth of today have taken it upon themselves to resolve the inequities of the past, present, and future — the admissions process at Cornell needs to reflect these changing times by catering to an audience that is now more aware than ever of these social discrepancies. 

Dave Hollis sums up the situation before us quite succinctly: “in the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” Standardized testing is not normal. Agonizing for months over a four hour multiple choice test is not normal. Cheating rings are not normal. The corruption rampant in any capitalist corporation, the College Board being no exception, is common but should never have been considered normal. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to redefine normal for ourselves and for those around us. Cornell should make the most of these rare circumstances and right the wrong, not only for present circumstances but for the future ones as well: they must waive the standardized testing requirement for all future applicants. If Cornell were to make this permanent amendment to their admissions process, perhaps the other Ivies would follow suit, as they had done just months ago. Perhaps Cornell can be a pioneer for the change we all want to see in the world. 

Isabelle Pappas is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Illustration by Claire Chen.