District’s decision to host the standardized tests causes controversy

September 18, 2020 — by Andy Chen, Shreya Rallabandi and Harshini Velchamy

Students, parents and staff are split on the district’s decision to host both the SAT and PSAT at both Saratoga High and Los Gatos High. Most criticism centers on the dangers of hosting indoor tests during a pandemic and equity issues.

In an email sent on Sept. 10, principal Greg Louie announced that the SAT will be offered to only seniors on Oct. 14 while the PSAT will be offered to only juniors on Oct. 17 in order to minimize safety concerns. The SAT will cost $120 and the PSAT $30. The district does not plan to offer the ACT. Volunteer parents are proctoring the exams.

As of Sept. 15, 165 seniors had registered for the SAT and 263 juniors had registered for the PSAT at SHS. To comply with county and state guidelines, the administration plans to test students’ and proctors’ temperatures beforehand, and each room will be capped at 12 people to allow for social distancing.

In a recent letter to the district board and superintendent Michael Grove, many faculty members said they are against offering these standardized tests because of an inherent risk to student health. Even with these safety measures, “nothing is ever 100 percent safe unless you don’t do it,” said guidance counselor Alinna Satake.

In the letter, Satake — supported by 47 co-signers from the SHS staff — also argued that hosting the tests would compromise the district’s dedication to equity both inside and outside of the district.

Satake said offering the test would exclude SHS students who can’t afford the $120 exam fee and that hosting the tests would be unfair to students in other school districts not offering the tests, like Fremont Union High School District and Palo Alto Unified School District. In fact, she fears that other school districts, in an effort to match the school’s academic opportunities, may feel pressure to follow the district’s lead — further threatening their students’ safety as well.

Taking a broader view, Satake said that hosting the tests at the school adds to issues of inequity on a national level since many districts don’t have the resources necessary to host a socially distanced standardized test.

“While we are a high-performing district and should pride ourselves on our competitive and college-ready graduates, offering the SAT only to our students is simply divisive and inequitable to already marginalized students,” Satake said. “By offering this privilege to a select group, we are contributing to the extreme inequality in access to educational opportunity that our country currently faces.”

In contrast, district administration thinks that hosting the tests at the school is a step toward more equity since private schools like Harker and Bellarmine are offering standardized tests to their students. Because some families were initially planning to fly to Southern California or outside of the state to have their seniors take the SAT, hosting the test at school may be fairer to students who don’t have the money to fly to other parts of the country, Louie said.

Additionally, while Satake and her supporters argue that SATs aren’t a necessity for students this year — since many colleges, including all UCs, have adjusted their admissions cycle to be either test-blind or test-optional — Brian Safine, the district’s director of human resources, said that hosting the SATs benefits students planning to apply to colleges that still require test scores. He encouraged seniors to look at the Fair Test Website for more information on which colleges are going test-blind or test-optional.

“In a perfect world, all universities would pivot to a test-blind admissions system for the Class of 2021, meaning that an SAT score would not be considered when evaluating a student's admission prospects,” Safine said. “However, although several colleges have instituted a test blind policy, not all have.”

Louie suspects that many test-optional colleges will ultimately factor standardized test scores into their admissions process.

“There are a number of test-optional schools that won’t admit it, but the truth is, if we’re comparing student A to student B, and student A happens to have a score, that student may get a slight edge,” Louie said. “That’s what’s scaring a lot of parents and seniors — the fact that they either didn’t have a chance to take the test this spring, or they didn’t do well in the spring and they want to do better.”

Even so, Satake also argued that hosting the SATs would add unnecessary stress for students — many of whom are already more stressed than usual because of online schooling and COVID-19.

“Teachers are already seeing students burned out by weekend test prep, unable to focus on critical thinking in their distance learning classes,” she wrote in the letter. “They’re expending all their energy on preparing for an extraneous exam they might not even be allowed to take.”

Similar to various teachers and district faculty, many students and parents are divided on this topic.

More than 200 parents at SHS have indicated their support for the school’s efforts to host the tests, according to a document obtained by The Falcon.

One such parent — Bin Yuan, junior Bill Yuan’s father —  believes that hosting the SAT and PSAT is a valuable opportunity for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned during their student career, provided proper safety measures are in place.

“SHS is a very competitive high school, and it has guided many excellent students to some of the best U.S. colleges,” said Yuan, who plans to volunteer as a proctor. “Many of those colleges are still considering SAT scores, so it’s necessary for SHS to host the SAT in order to provide students with an opportunity to distinguish themselves.”

Many students, like senior Isaac Sun, said hosting the SATs would level the playing field for juniors and seniors who haven’t yet taken it, in contrast to students who took the SAT during their sophomore or freshman years.

“Knowing that your peers have scores that you don't will obviously make you feel left behind or not good enough,” said Sun, who took the SAT last year, “so in my opinion, SHS hosting the SATs shows that they really care about their students, because it is almost purely for our own benefit.”

Other students, including junior Anya Liu, contend the safety concerns and stress surrounding PSAT preparation outweigh any possible benefits.

“As of now, I don’t see any viable way of hosting the SAT,” Liu said. “Even with 10 people, sitting for four hours in an enclosed space seems dangerous, so unless the SAT moves online, I think it’d be best to postpone it until the cases go down.”

According to district board president Cynthia Chang, the board is in “full support” of the district’s decision to host the tests.

Despite differing opinions among students, parents, teachers and district leaders, Louie acknowledged that all parties involved are voicing what they believe is “morally correct.”

“As a community, we’re working collaboratively with our parents and our students, despite some of our [clashing] beliefs,” Louie said. “When it comes down to it, it’s not the end of the world if we do or don't do it, but if we put our best effort forward, then at least we can say we tried.”

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Junior Daniel Jiang prepares to make a goal during an after school water polo practice at SHS's swimming pool on Sept. 16. Photo by Selina Chen

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