MCHS juniors adapt to COVID-19 impacts on testing and extracurriculars

By Alex Chui, editor

As California schools and colleges nationwide intend to stay closed at least until the next school year, the education world is up in the air for non-seniors in high school who may face additional challenges with standardized testing and extracurriculars in preparation for college applications. 

The College Board has canceled SAT testing dates until August as a result of COVID-19. SAT testing capacity will expand to accommodate more students than usual in the fall, according to the College Board, and students who were registered for the canceled June SAT or are current juniors without SAT scores will have “early access to register for August, September and October.” The exact mechanism has not been described yet. Fall SAT dates are Aug. 29, Oct. 3, Nov. 7, Dec. 5 and a yet-to-be-determined date in September.

Maria Carrillo High School juniors Jonathan Liu and Teresa Liang both intended to take the June SAT, but have since changed their plans with the new testing dates.

In response to the pandemic, schools like the University of California have made standardized test scores optional, meaning “if a student does not have a standardized test score when they apply in the fall of 2020, this will not be held against the student. If a student has a test score, it will be considered in the overall admissions process,” according to MCHS College & Career Counselor Ashlee Moreno. 

Liu said it would be “a lot more stressful to take [the SAT] senior year. However, since the UCs and other schools are canceling the requirement, I feel less stressed over whether I get an opportunity to take another SAT or not.” Having taken the SAT once, Liu will take the SAT Math 2 Subject Test in August. Liang has already taken the SAT subject tests she had planned, and will take the SAT in the coming fall. 

Freshman Riya Ramakrishnan explained that although juniors may feel more stressed about taking tests in time for college applications, “as bad as this situation is, it could possibly help [freshmen and sophomores] get more time to really focus on preparing for these tests, which is something I am looking into.”

However, even though test scores are optional, Liu thinks “it would be a disadvantage for those who don’t have it” because it’s one less measure for the college to consider. “If they truly didn’t matter, then they shouldn’t accept them in order to keep it fair,” said Liu, “but that would also be unfair for those with scores, so it’s a tricky situation.”

Another change in standardized tests comes in the form of the remote, 45-minute, open-book, free-response-only AP tests this year.

Liang said, “These new AP tests may seem easier than the previous ones, but I’m actually more worried because it’s something I’ve never seen before.” She expressed concern that this year’s  AP tests won’t show her “full potential and capabilities especially before college apps since they shortened the test a lot. You have to make sure that you get everything or mostly everything on the test correct.” 

Liu has similar worries: “Since the FRQs were originally just a portion of the whole exam, I feel that it would be hard to judge a student’s understanding of a subject with just FRQs.” On the AP English Language exam, “the MC and the essay assessed students for different areas in the exam: MC for passage comprehension and analysis and the essays for writing ability,” said Liu. 

MCHS AP Coordinator Paul Vanek said, “The College Board claims that scores should not vary because of the changes–they have picked the question(s) that best indicates a student’s college success.” However, Vanek acknowledges that “students clearly don’t have as much of a margin for error, so I would guess that most students would score similarly; however, some may score higher or lower based on the question.”

AP Calculus teacher Cindy Lui had a similar take on the new AP tests: “With the 45-minute versions, it’s going to be much more difficult for students to demonstrate their full understanding.  As with most standardized tests, the AP exam score reflects not only the content knowledge, but how well prepared the students are for those specific exams.” Lui is reorganizing her curriculum to make sure her students feel comfortable with the new exam format, especially to reduce any additional stress that might hinder a student’s performance.

On top of the changing circumstances surrounding standardized testing, students often have work, internship or volunteer opportunities during the summer that are facing cancelations due to COVID-19.

Liang had applied to the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) program as well as the Summer High School STEM Internship Program (SHIP) at Sonoma State University. Since April 1, SHIP was canceled for the coming summer and although the four COSMOS sites at various UC campuses have not announced a cancelation yet, each UC has moved the summer term of instruction online and only essential personnel are currently on campus, according to COVID-19 updates on the schools’ websites. 

For Liang, the coming summer would be the last for her to apply to SHIP and COSMOS before college applications are due. Liu also applied to SHIP and he fears “that since students won’t be able to do much of anything their second semester and summer as well, a lot of the stuff they planned to add to their applications will be vacant and might seem worse than others.”

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