Google Is Not Everything…

Youth On Standardized Testing During the Pandemic

Alexis Joy Viloria | Maui High School

Amid changes to modern education due to the pandemic, students were faced with particularly difficult challenges regarding standardized testing. At the start of the quarantine in early 2020, students and teachers alike scrambled as they contemplated the many possibilities for final exams, specifically the exams that qualify students for college credit. Though solutions to the onset of distance learning of Advanced Placement courses were promptly arranged, there was little known about what was to come about testing after a whole year of an Advanced Placement (or AP) class through distance learning.

Similarly, challenges arose with other standardized tests like the ACT and SAT that are a crucial part of college admissions. Despite many colleges opting for test-optional admissions, many students find themselves in a dilemma as they weigh the options while taking their health, the given circumstances and their chances of admissions with the tests into account.

With students struggling to catch up and gain the traditional school experience for optimal learning, companies that organize nationwide testing such as CollegeBoard and ACT have offered full-length tests to students, both in-person and online. Is this fair to the students who have already gone through so much as to adapt to a whole new learning experience? Three high-school students express their thoughts on the matter.

Carlo Cortez
Photo courtesy Carlo Cortez

Maui High School Junior Carlo Cortez who is currently taking AP Chemistry, AP Computer Science Principles and AP English Language and Composition shares what he thinks about the testing to come. Being in three AP courses, he describes his experience taking them online as “quite difficult, however somewhat manageable. Compared to in-person learning without this current pandemic, I would say that I would be more invested in the content of these courses and possibly able to learn much more efficiently.” To Carlo, the online status of his schedule has its ups and downs but is definitely not at fault for all of the difficulties he faces. “I will say that in some cases online learning within these courses wasn’t necessarily difficult but rather just somewhat tiring and demotivating. In a way, sometimes I had more time to work on things, and with the resources online which did aid me along the way well … with the additional factors that this pandemic has brought it is hard to stay motivated when for the most part I am inside my house, no physical social interactions and just the restrictions put on for even things that don’t pertain to my academics seem to strain me out of energy.”

A taker of the previous AP exams administered online during the quarantine, Carlo describes his time in the exam. “I did take the AP World History shortened exam last year and it went all right I would say, but the few cons that I feel apply not just for me but for other students that I recognized would definitely be the costs, how it was run, and time constraints.” Carlo further describes the obstacles many other students encountered during the exam administrations. “I know that not just in our school but some students globally had problems with the submission of their work, and most of them if I recall correctly had to retake their tests.”

As a member of a community whose economy was hit hard by the pandemic, Carlo also finds some flaws in the cost of this year’s test. “The costs should also be shortened because of the hardships the pandemic provides, especially from a financial standpoint. That to me is what I feel should be the current state of the exams. The reason I say I’m okay with this is that I understand that the courses I signed up for are by no means easy and I do agree that the current way of the learning system doesn’t make it any easier for some students.”

Now at the prime time for standardized tests heavily relied on by colleges, it’s almost time for Carlo to take the ACT. This year, Maui High School still plans to administer the test in-person. Carlo remains optimistic the school staff will do their best to ensure the wellness of the Juniors planning on taking the test. “My expectations for the ACT this year is for it to be run to the best of the staff’s ability at school to protect students health-wise and privacy-wise and to establish a solid and even fair testing environment.” With his final remarks, Carlo describes the expectations of his own performance on the test given the circumstances. “As for my personal expectations about how I will perform, I’m expecting to do okay on the ACT. While it may be hard to prepare at home and through online learning, I do feel like it is possible and I wish to achieve that feat.”

Jazmyne Viloria
Photo courtesy Jazmyne Viloria

Overcoming her own feats, new addition to the AP cohort Jazmyne Viloria, a Sophomore at Maui High School shares her experience taking her very first AP course during the pandemic. Like Carlo, Jazmyne finds the draining nature of online AP courses to be something she expected but an experience she found some positive within. “My experience taking an Advanced Placement course through distant learning has definitely been a draining yet necessary experience I needed. Rather than my motivation coming from the fear of being judged by peers and teachers in a classroom, my motivation this year comes from myself wanting to be the best me.”

Powering through the tough experience, Jazmyne wishes her AP courses weren’t full length. “I believe the AP exams being full length this year is quite unfair.” Jazmyne says this is due to the efficiency difference between in-person and distance learning. “Although my teachers are trying their absolute best to teach virtually, the lesson doesn’t stick with me as much as in-person learning did.” To Jazmyne, the AP exams should be optional for that very reason and many other factors ringing into students’ life especially with the pandemic. “In my opinion, standardized testing should be optional this year as most students aren’t in the most ideal mindset to take standardized tests. Usually, students place education at top priority, however, with the pandemic extra things have been added onto their list (babysitting siblings, helping younger siblings with online schooling, etc.) taking away attention from school.”

Despite this being her first year taking an AP course, Jazmyne is certain how she wishes the test would be administrated this year. “My ideal test experience for this year would be test-optional, whether the student does or doesn’t take the AP exam they will still be able to keep their 5.0 grade scale. As well as if students did want to take the AP exam the price for regular students (without reduced lunch) will also be decreased to $50 or less.”

Czerena Bayle
Photo courtesy Czerena Bayle

A Senior taking AP Literature, Czerena Bayle of Maui High School shares what she thinks of this year’s test administrations. With her opinion of distance learning, it’s unanimous among the interviewees that AP courses through a virtual platform is without a doubt a big challenge. “Taking an Advanced Placement course is always difficult and completing courses virtually is even more challenging. It is so much harder to concentrate at home. Completing six hours of school while staring at a screen is exhausting.” She also owes this to her overall school experience online. “I’m not able to get as much help or interact as I would, compared to in-person learning. No one turns their cameras on and everyone uses the chat. It’s so one-dimensional and boring.”

Like Jazmyne, Czerena is not a believer in a full-length AP exam. “I feel like the AP exams should not be full length. I feel like I am behind and extremely underprepared. The AP exams are something so many students dread. Having a shortened version of the AP exam is beneficial for the thousands of stressed students.” Furthermore, Czerena sees some problems with the actual platform of administration as tests are offered both in-person and online. “I can either choose to take the exam in person and risk exposure, take it online at six in the morning with possible internet issues, or not take the exam at all and don’t get credit. I feel like it is a lose-lose situation.”

As an applicant in the year where colleges have chosen to go test-optional, Czerena is adamant in her opinion standardized tests should be optional. “I feel like standardized tests should be optional. I know there are so many other students who feel underprepared or feel like they didn’t learn much this year.” Referencing scandals coming out in 2019 regarding false test administrations, Czerena even questions the need for standardized tests without the pandemic. “It is just unnecessary stress. The standardized testing scandals in 2019 question the effectiveness and validity of standardized tests. People were able to pay to get good scores while others had to put in the work. It’s not fair.”

To cap off her thoughts, Czerena describes her ideal testing experience as one where she shouldn’t even have to test in the first place, pandemic or not. “My ideal test experience for this particular year would be nonexistent. Personally, I am an awful test taker. Tests are usually the main source of my anxiety; paired with being unprepared, failure is inevitable. In a perfect world, testing would be optional for all students.”

After hearing what these students had to say about testing, it’s clear they just want their voices to be heard by the corporations controlling their academic future. Even with the CollegeBoard taking measures to supplement course content, what students in this time are going through is all too new, and the burden of testing added onto that can be devastating in many ways. Empowered by the vision of their future, though, these students are still prepared to face the challenges of testing in the pandemic head-on as they get ready to take on the world.

Google® Is Not Everything is a monthly column authored by high school students. The title of the column emphasizes education is more than just googling a topic. Google® is a registered trademark. This month’s guest columnist is Alexis Joy Viloria, Maui High School Senior. She is the founder and President of the SaberScribes journalism club and Vice President of the Silversword Chapter of the National Honor Society. Alexis is a member of HOSA-Future Health Professionals as the Secondary Representative of the Hawai‘i HOSA State Council. She will be attending Stanford University in the Fall to major in Anthropology. Alexis is the daughter of Alex and Juvy Viloria.