Stop complaining about The College Board

Despite its faults, the College Board may not be so bad.

Jiayu Zhan

Despite its faults, the College Board may not be so bad.

Nihal Singh, Copy Editor

“F*ck College Board,” one Dougherty Valley High School junior said. “The College Board single-handedly ruined my entire high school experience,” another exclaimed. 

Animosity towards The College Board is commonplace in high schools throughout the United States, but nowhere is it more vehement than in the student bodies of competitive Bay Area schools such as Dougherty Valley.

Who can blame them? In the current age of hyper-competitive college admissions your score on the SAT’s, AP exams, SAT subject tests, and others in a delightful assortment of assessments (try to say that ten times fast) can make or break your acceptance to the university of your dreams, ostensibly altering the trajectory of your life. These tests carry a lot of weight, and taking them simply isn’t a pleasant experience. Merely uttering the words “college board” can induce stress in the most battle hardened, mentally fortified test takers. 

The College Board also receives heavy criticism vis a vis the pricing of its tests. At best, the cost of taking the SAT(a pricey $65 with the essay) aggrieves the frugal student. At worst, it can place significant financial stress on a student’s family, especially those who opt to take the SAT several times. Disgruntled test-takers are quick to point out the “uber-capitalist” agenda advanced by The College Board, in response to the test’s sky-high pricing. Epithets such as “predatory” and “exploitative” are oft-directed towards the organization. To an extent, these claims hold true based on the College Board’s financial records. 

All that being said, this animosity tends to nebulate the vital role The College Board plays in standardization within secondary education. The College Board’s assessments allow for a standardized comparison of college applicants amidst the rampant grade inflation present in the secondary education system.

Grade inflation and standardization 

Grade inflation is caused by grading leniency: when high school teachers award higher grades than students deserve. 

A study by the Fordham institute reveals rampant grade inflation across high schools in recent years in the United States. Researchers concluded that students’ level of mastery of a course did not align with the grade received for the course for up to 79% of high school students nationwide, after analyzing metrics such as scores on state tests and end of course exams.

The College Board’s assessments allow for a standardized comparison of college applicants amidst the rampant grade inflation present in the secondary education system.

All other admissions factors notwithstanding,  the disparity between grades received and subject mastery creates an adverse selection issue for colleges seeking to admit the fittest applicants. With such variance in grading standards, it becomes difficult to gauge an applicant’s academic capabilities.

Enter standardized tests. Standardized tests allow for the comparison of applicants on a common scale. Theoretically, this evens the playing field between students exposed to varying levels of grading difficulty. It also elucidates an applicant’s potential to succeed in college.

In a 2008 study, researchers found that an applicant’s SAT score is a fairly strong predictor of the applicant’s first-year college GPA. 

With the sheer number of applications received by colleges annually, having an objective, straightforward metric to measure an applicant’s academic capabilities also provides colleges with a more streamlined admissions process. 

“We were expected to read five applications per hour, which equates to 12 minutes per application,” former Brown University Admissions Officer Erica Curtis said.

A meager 12 minutes is an insufficient amount of time to get to know an applicant on a deeper level and admit them based solely on their character. 

However, it is widely understood that The College Board’s standardized tests are not tell-all metrics by any stretch of the imagination. The circumstances and conditions in which students take The College Board’s tests vary by socio-economic status and access to resources such as test preparation and college-coaching. 

The flaws in The College Board’s standardized tests were laid bare by the 2019 college admissions scandal wherein wealthy parents paid tens of thousands of dollars to inflate their children’s standardized test scores and bribe college officials.

Following this scandal, calls have been made to do away with standardized testing completely. In fact, California courts ruled that the University of California system is no longer permitted to consider standardized test scores in the fall 2020 admissions cycle and the UC system plans to stop considering standardized test scores completely beginning in the fall of 2023. 

However, doing away with standardized testing has its own drawbacks. The shift in emphasis to less objective and more malleable measures of academic capability, such as extracurriculars and GPA, will simply give way to the adverse selection problem colleges are attempting to combat through standardized testing. 

The paradigm of standardization is integral to creating a foundation of objectivity in the college admissions process. The College Board is one of the few educational institutions that is making a concerted effort to implement and improve standardization in the secondary education system. Don’t hate on them.