Acalanes students travel out of state to take SATs

Priority testing allows seniors to receive their scores


Usually, students fret outside the Acalanes classrooms early on a Saturday morning, awaiting one of the largest determinators of their college fate: the SAT. 

This year, however, many students are traveling out of state to take the SATs because of  multiple cancellations by schools in efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

After cancelling both the August and September test dates, Acalanes offered the SAT on Wednesday, Oct. 14, for seniors, and the PSAT on Saturday, Oct. 17, for juniors. 

“We needed to prioritize the SAT for seniors, and hope to add an administration later for other students to add in. I do think the most fair approach is to offer the opportunity to students who have the shortest timeframe and the highest need,” Associate Principal Mike Plant said. 

The priority testing system allows seniors with rapidly-approaching college applications to receive their scores. Other students, however, worry that the lack of test scores hinders their ability to apply for college.

“Because I am considering going to university internationally, there are different requirements than applying to universities in the U.S., and I will need to take the SAT to be able to apply,” junior Autumn Long said. 

Math teacher Misha Buchel and his son, Jonas Buchel, recently traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to take the SAT.

“Jonas wanted to take it because he didn’t yet know where he wanted to apply, and he wanted to have the opportunity to have that be part of his application process, and so we were very fortunate that we had the means and the opportunity to be able to put that together,” Misha Buchel said.

While taking the SAT is critical for applying to some colleges, some students argue that traveling for standardized testing highlights our privilege. 

“SAT is supposed to be a standardized test where everyone has an equal opportunity. But when you realize that students with more resources are able to afford extensive tutoring, take the test multiple times, and have the opportunity to travel somewhere in order to take the test on a date that is convenient for them, you really start to rethink how leveled the playing field really is,” junior Ella Morris said.

Although traveling to other states to take the SAT seems drastic to some, other students understand the competition amongst their peers that drive them to go to such lengths.

“I am not against it, people should do what they want but it would really suck if someone traveled to take the SAT and they didn’t end up getting the score they wanted,” senior Sterling Mosley said.

Acalanes nurse Dvora Citron also believes that students who travel during a pandemic for the SATs must have more resources than most.

“There are only certain students that have the privilege to be able to afford to go out of state to take the SAT. To me, that really pointed out a great inequity in the system of college applications and admissions, and that almost bothered me more than the health risk,” Citron said.

Hannah Welling, Testing Coordinator at Acalanes, believes the pandemic has exacerbated this inequity between students. 

“The financial impact on families creates an unfair advantage to students who may not have the means or resources available to take the exams due to the COVID pandemic,” Welling said.

Not only are students traveling out of state equipped with an advantage, but many administrators suspect the standardized test itself is flawed. Wes Cedros, Director of Student Services at Tamalpais Union High School District, was involved in the decision not to become a test site due to COVID-19. Cedros thinks standardized tests do not consider the disadvantages among minority groups. 

“What standardized exams don’t do well is account for the inherent bias present in our educational system. If you are a student of color, a student in a low socio-economic bracket, a student speaking English as a second language or a homeless youth, the SAT or similar test is probably not going to accurately reflect your academic ability or potential for success in college,” Cedros said.

Like Acalanes, the Tamalpais district is also struggling with the decision to cancel standardized tests. Cedros thinks the problem lies much deeper than the recent complications with COVID-19. 

“They [College Board and ACT] are independent companies with a business model that gives schools the lion’s share of the work and responsibility, while providing a small bit of compensation that doesn’t even cover our costs. That inevitably and regrettably puts us at odds with parents, when we can’t follow through on the promises the College Board makes on our behalf,” Cedros said.

The College Board’s model is now integral in the college administration process. Some members of the Acalanes community believe standardized tests are a large part of our competitive culture. 

“Parents want to keep the doors of opportunity open so that kids have the most access to routes that lead to success. Sometimes I feel like we need to expand our definition of success and standardized tests kind of fall into an old-school paradigm, but families feel like they have to ‘play the game,’ ” Plant said. 

Many believe that students would benefit from breaking with the community’s competitive culture. 

“I think it’s really important to step back constantly and just know what’s right for you before loading all these things up by getting crazy in the ‘treadmill’ because you’ve got this narrow focus that that’s all that matters when actually what matters is what’s going on right now in your life,” Citron said.