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Girls Academic Leadership Academy

Opinion: Dear College Board

It’s 1:06 a.m. on a Monday in March and I am frantically trying to recall the names of the processes that accompany fermentation not found in glycolysis. 

I haven’t left my room in three hours because a break is a royalty I do not have the right to indulge myself in. After all, when going through my study guides, I couldn’t remember that indulgences were what Martin Luther was so enraged about.

I devote chunks of my day to studying, but I don’t think any amount of Crash Course or released FRQs from 2018 can save me. Even now, a month after the 2021 AP Exam season came to a close, my nerves remain at an all-time high as I anxiously await (or really, dread) the release of exam scores in late July.

Perhaps there is no perfect anecdotal hook for an essay written about an organization that made a net profit of more than $65.5 million in 2010 by selling tests, prep resources, and classes relating to compositional English: CollegeBoard.

The infamous nonprofit is a household nightmare for high school students as it is the company attached to the PSAT, SAT, ACT and AP Exams. However, CollegeBoard has not just earned a bad reputation for its infamously challenging exams. Since the organization was founded in 1899, it has implemented various eyebrow-raising policies and upheld tests and testing procedures rooted in inequality. 

The U.S experienced a wave of mass migration in the early 1900s, leaving many White U.S citizens worried that their jobs were at stake. Falling back on Social Darwinist theologies and eugenics, Carl Brigham wrote and published “A Study of American Intelligence,” a book that argued that what we now know as standardized tests were the best way to categorize immigrants and ensure that White citizens’ jobs were not given to more qualified migrants. 

Following the 1923 publishing of Brigham’s work that warned of the “promiscuous intermingling” of those arriving in the U.S and White U.S citizens in the workforce, CollegeBoard commissioned Brigham to develop the SAT.

Since the SAT was first put into the hands of school systems in 1926, it has been rewritten, rebranded, and the idea that it is a complete intelligence score has been scrubbed. However, such changes do not replace the fact that the test was initially established less than a century ago to provide a reason for excluding immigrants, neurodivergent people and people of color from the U.S. workplace.

And still today, the blatant disparities between white and wealthy students taking AP, SAT, and ACT tests versus their less socioeconomically privileged counterparts are present. As of 2021, AP Exams cost $95 per test, and the SAT costs either $52 or $68, depending on the inclusion of an essay in the exam. Such fees do not include the prep books, textbooks, and tutoring that are often crucial to succeeding on such tests.

While some high schools cover the cost of AP Exams, and though one-time fee waivers for the SAT and ACT are offered to students who meet certain income criteria, even being able to register to take CollegeBoard tests once is a luxury dependent on disposable income that many don’t have. With the option to retake the SAT and ACT as many times as available to boost one’s score, the students who can spend hundreds of dollars during exam season are set up for success. Those who can only afford to take the SAT once or prep for AP Exams with no outside resources can not.

Yet, it is impossible to separate the College Board from the educational foundations that allow the company’s grasp on students to remain so tight; if CollegeBoard and socioeconomic disparities were the email recipient of this article, the American school system would be CC’d.

It’s no secret that the race for coveted spots at top universities has exponentially taken over students’ lives starting long before their junior and senior years in high school. With countless four-year universities seeing more than a 17% increase in applications for the 2020-2021 application session, the pressure high school students face to do everything in their power to strengthen their college applications — including getting 4s and 5s on AP Exams and 1600s and 36s on the SAT and ACT despite some colleges no longer requiring the latter two tests — is only growing. 

At an unpinnable point in time, the American education system has seemingly become less about learning and preparing students for adulthood and more about how many A’s can be stuffed on a report card, how many volunteer hours packed in a weekend, and how many glowing letters of recommendation sealed in envelopes and shipped away. And while colleges and CollegeBoard profit off of students’ anguish, severe mental health issues continue to grow in popularity amongst the youth. In fact, one in five high school students reported having experienced a serious mental health condition between ninth and twelfth grade. 

Such stress does not just lead to all-nighters and tear stains on math textbooks. As of 2014, suicide is the second-highest cause of death amongst teenagers, and more students and families are going down the route of extremities to ensure college acceptance.  The latter is seen in the 50 parents indicted in Operation Varsity Blues for paying anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to cheat parts of the college admissions exam, such as the SAT.

So, as both student individuals and a broken education system as a whole, where do we go from here? Unfortunately, the answer can’t be found in a prep book, but in the unbeknownst future.