A Letter from the Editors

Sarah Liu and Claire Hardesty

In elementary school, when biology, chemistry and physics were able to fit in one textbook, we learned about adaptation. Over the centuries, creatures like giraffes sprouted long necks to reach trees for food, and aquatic animals grew webbed feet to swim, all out of necessity. The rules of biology are quite literally a tale as old as time, and unforgiving, too: adapt, or die trying.

In every aspect of our lives, the message of adaptation has been consistent: adapt to to teaching and learning virtually; adapt sport practices and social lives to fit the unprecedented circumstances. Yet, standardized testing seems to be exempt from this sudden evolution we find ourselves in. If we are to survive in our new environment, then the rules necessitate that testing must undergo some changes as well. 

The usual pitfalls of standardized testing haven’t changed much, whether it’s the onset of testing anxiety brought on by the pressure of these exams, or the precious class time traditionally lost to the CAASPP, and now, i-Ready exams. But, the COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted the inequities that have long lurked beneath the surface. The shift to remote learning has already hurt the most vulnerable among us, which include low-income families, racial minority groups, and disabled students. Inaccessibility to high-speed WiFi or the necessary technology has made online learning hard enough. The continuation of high-stakes testing only exacerbates the issue.

The introduction of the i-Ready test was in response to CA Senate Bill 98, which requires all school districts to use a diagnostic assessment to determine learning loss and learning gaps due to school closures. Teachers have been left in the dark as to what these tests look like and entail. To have students take the diagnostic again in the second semester, with questions identical to the ones on the first-semester test, is not a constructive strategy. Furthermore, expecting students to retain the same volume of knowledge at the same rate as any other year is a gross miscalculation.

As i-Ready remains more of a nuisance than a stressor, AP Exams are just around the corner with more uncertainty than last year. In some classes, it still has not been announced yet as to whether the exam will be taken in-person or online. It also remains unclear when students will no longer be able to back out of exams they don’t feel comfortable or safe taking, and the logistics of safe in-person testing is still unfamiliar for most PVHS students. 

Last year’s fully-online AP exams eliminated some curriculum from the test and was over within 45 minutes. Now, the College Board has decided to go forward with full-length exams regardless of testing environment. Three-hour tests have always felt excessive, but they feel downright cruel now. Worse, the amount of knowledge the College Board expects from test-takers has not been adapted to meet the moment. The online platform, even after a semester in practice, is still a far cry from the in-person educational experience.

In the world of college-entrance exams, standardized tests seem to be becoming a thing of the past. With COVID-19 finally pushing the ACT and SAT off their high horses this year through test-optional policies, it is unlikely their relevancy and influence will bounce back to what it once was. Through and through, standardized tests cater to a specific type of student  or economic class. Those who have the money and time to dedicate to a personal tutor or prep course will predictiably score higher than their less-fortunate, but intellectually-comparable peers. There’s a point to be made in the ability of some of our peers to travel out of state for the sake of an SAT score.

The cracks have become especially noticeable in an already faulty practice. Diagnostics will prove to be unhelpful as kids inevitably rush through questions, and it seems like the College Board would rather save their bottom line than adapt to the circumstances faced by this year’s students. Time won’t stop for standardized testing. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the pandemic era, it’s that testing must evolve to be more equitable as institutions wake up to its flaws, or run the risk of becoming extinct.