Recently, in my AP United States History class, we covered the Gilded Age. This era saw the rise of large corporations known as trusts, which would eventually evolve into monopolistic forces that held both political and economic power in the United States. Leaders of these monopolies, as we learned, were known as robber barons. The discussion of these monopolies and their influence reminded me of discussions that I had seen online through articles and posts on websites such as Reddit regarding the College Board. One search with the key phrases “College Board” and “monopoly” will bring up many results from both current and former students, admissions officers, and teachers sharing how the College Board has a harmful presence in American schools and exploits high school students.
Founded over 120 years ago in December of 1899 as the College Entrance Examination Board (or CEEB), the College Board is a non-profit organization that was originally dedicated to increasing access to college-level education. At the time, higher education was primarily a luxury that was accessible only to upper class citizens. The College Board is best known for its use of the SAT, a merit-based standardized test developed by Princeton University psychology professor Carl Campbell Brigham in 1926, which is still taken by many students today.
Although the SAT may seem like a helpful way to gauge the intelligence of students, its creation reflects a dark heritage of systemic racism and white supremacy that was common throughout the growth of early-twentieth century testing. During this time period there was a large wave of non-white immigrants moving the the United States. This led to white leaders attempting to sort new immigrants by use of intelligence testing into categories of those who were intelligent and those who were not. Prior to designing the SAT exam, Brigham published his book Study of American Intelligence which discussed how testing showed the superiority of whites while discouraging intermingling with minority immigrants. Not so coincidentally, soon after Brigham published his book, the College Board requested his help in developing the SAT exam.
Recently, more students have taken the SAT exam than ever before, with the class of 2020 taking nearly 2.2 million SAT exams. The cost of taking an SAT test is set annually by the College Board, but on average they cost around forty dollars without the essay component and sixty dollars with the essay included. The College Board recommends that students take the SAT exam at least twice for practice and so that students can improve their scores. Over the years, there has been a rise in companies centered around test prep, creating a lucrative industry centered around preparing students for college exams. Prep courses for the SAT can range from hundreds of dollars to even thousands of dollars, depending on the amount of practice a student needs and which facility they practice at.
It may sound great to have the opportunity to be ranked with other students based on merrit to receive a competitive edge when applying to colleges and universities, but the cost of SAT preparation and testing can be harmful to low income students. The cost of repeatedly taking SAT tests like many students are recommended to do can quickly rack up while often discouraging poor students from testing in the process.
Perhaps more infamous among high school students are Advanced Placement (AP) exams, which are also administered by the College Board. They offer 36 total AP courses, which are equivalent to college-level courses in terms of their content and difficulty and offer students a chance to receive college credit through the AP tests. As many are aware, these tests score students on a one to five scale; a one being the worst and a five being the best possible score.
The cost to take just one AP test in 2021 is $95, with factors such as student’s location or lateness causing the price to rise significantly. Many students who take AP courses take multiple throughout their years in high school, totaling up to hundreds of dollars to take multiple exams. Although a strong benefit to these courses is the ability to submit scores to colleges, this also costs a fee per score. Even for middle class families like many at Orange Lutheran, the expenses from taking multiple AP courses can be quite costly.
Advanced Placement courses also pose risk to the mental health of students who decide to take them. As a rising junior, I decided to load my schedule with several academically challenging AP classes. I grew up as a “gifted kid” throughout elementary and middle school and received praise only from my academic talent. I had grown up under the wing of my older half sister who graduated high school with a 4.4 GPA, and I admired her success and wanted to achieve it for myself. Throughout her high school career, I had only seen her good side (since she only visited on holidays and vacations) and did not understand her own struggles with depression and generalized anxiety disorder and their impact on her life as an honors and AP student.
Experiences similar to those faced by my older sister are not isolated; many high school students in AP classes report having heightened stress and symptoms of depression. With many American high schools allowing for students to register for a relatively unlimited number of rigorous classes, students can easily drown in their course load by adding too many AP courses to their schedule. It can be argued that AP courses are beneficial and not harmful as they can help to lower the cost of college while teaching college-level skills to students. However, the common stereotype of the stressed, tired, and perfectionistic AP student is highly accurate. High school students under high academic pressure can often suffer from poor performance as a result of overload, lack of sleep, and loss of motivation.
Recently, as a result of the pandemic, many university administrators have made the decision to eliminate tests such as the SAT from the admission process. This move started with many schools deciding to be “test-optional” and some schools such as the UC schools planning to be “test-blind.” Test-optional refers to the premise that students are able to submit their SAT/ACT scores, but will not be penalized for not doing so in the admissions process. On the other hand, test-blind means that test scores will not be used in the college admissions process at all. The move towards schools being test-optional can even be noted before the pandemic as universities such as Cornell College, New York University, and Bowdoin College have already instituted test-blind practices.
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