This past weekend, thousands of high school students across the country took the ACT, a standardized test used for college admissions and an alternative to the SAT Reasoning Test. Of the few dozen M-A students to take the ACT at this date, none took the test at M-A’s campus. In fact, many of these students didn’t even take the test within the local area.
Despite the high amount of M-A students that take these tests, M-A administers neither the ACT nor the SAT. This means that every M-A student taking these exams is forced to travel to another school early in the morning to take a test that could have a significant impact on the rest of their life.
The closest campus for Menlo Park students is Palo Alto High School, a location that tends to become full weeks before the end of the regular registration period. For students that sign up close to the preliminary registration deadline, the option of a close testing location is a near impossibility, with most being forced to travel to Belmont, San Jose, or San Francisco to take these tests. This is certainly not an ideal situation for local students, who want the best possible testing experience for such an important exam. Many have wondered why M-A itself is not a designated test center.
M-A seniors Andrew DiSibio and Ben Katz weighed in on the current testing situation for M-A students. “I have to get up pretty early to get to any other high school,” said Katz. “Some of them, if you sign up late, can be really far out of the way. It’s important to get a good night sleep, which is difficult when you have to get up at 6:30.”
DiSibio echoed Katz’ concerns: “I signed up a little bit late, and the closest place that I could go was Oakland Tech, which is about an hour away from where I live, which is really annoying. At Oakland it was really disorganized and I had no idea where any of the classrooms were because it was a lot different than any other high school that I’ve been to…it also took an hour and a half to get started. The second time, I had to go to Sacramento…and I still had [signed up] about three weeks before the test.”
The problem is not just one of convenience – a poor testing experience can lead to an unsatisfactory performance on standardized tests. Senior Jack Beasley commented, “If you are [testing] in Fremont, you’re probably going to test pretty poorly because you probably woke up way earlier…and the traffic was probably pretty crappy too.” When local teenagers, far from morning animals, are forced to wake up even earlier and travel to unknown campuses across the bay, additional stress and sleep deprivation can be piled onto an already weary mind. Being anxious and drowsy can seriously affect a test taker’s attention and morale, inhibiting a strong performance on the test. And since these tests are in many ways the stepping stone to college, a non-ideal testing situation can have a significant impact on one’s life.
The lack of testing centers in Menlo Park, Atherton, Redwood City, and Palo Alto is not a common phenomenon across the state. When DiSibio traveled to Sacramento to take the SAT, he discussed his conundrum with fellow test takers, and heard something unbelievable. “One of the kids said that they had signed up for the SAT Subject Tests the day before, and they lived in the area.” This is a stark contrast from the experience of M-A students; signing up even at the regular registration date in no way guarantees a spot at a local school. For those who sign up a week or more after the regular registration deadline, many are forced to travel hours away.
DiSibio believes that the main issue is that this area contains a higher concentration of standardized test takers. “The fact that everyone around here is taking the SAT makes it so that there is a lot less space for people in comparison to other places where…fewer people take the SAT.” While both high schools in the Palo Alto District administer standardized testing, Carlmont is the only host out of the five high schools in M-A’s district, Sequoia Union. It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is home to a large amount of motivated students more likely to take multiple standardized tests across their high school careers. Thus the lack of multiple, reachable testing centers is all the more extreme.
Clearly, many M-A students feel that they have been dealt a poor hand in regards to standardized testing. Beasley, DiSibio, and Katz all voiced their support of making M-A an ACT and SAT administrator in the future, believing that this change would provide a better testing experience for M-A students.
M-A administration is no stranger to standardized testing. Special accommodation testing for the SAT, which covers extended-time tests and other special needs, is already held on campus, along with a weekend PSAT that garners around one thousand students. The school is also pushing a mandatory PSAT test for sophomores and juniors, no doubt to ready them for the actual exams that carry a greater impact on the tester’s future. The school administration evidently cares about preparing students for their standardized tests; after all, College and Career day was created to give freshmen and seniors a reason to come to school while other grades tackled the PSAT. Perhaps the next thing to consider for school officials is to create a better official testing environment for students by hosting SAT and ACT testing on campus. So what does the school administration say about this?
Instructional Vice-Principal Steve Lippi explained that standardized testing is “really [the] school’s choice. The College Board ask schools if they want to [administer], and typically it’s not something that they ask every year. It’s just kind of a traditional thing that Carlmont has always been the school in the district that has [administered the test].”
When asked why M-A has not pursued being a testing school, Lippi responded that it is “mostly because the question hasn’t come up. Logistically it is a lot of work, to try to find the proctors and all that… It’s always just been Carlmont.” But what if the question does come up, and from students? “I think it could be considered,” said Lippi. “Obviously it would be a lot of work to take on… the SAT wouldn’t be as large [as the PSAT], but you are still spending a lot of time putting that together.”
The duty of organizing ACT and SAT testing would ultimately fall to a designated testing coordinator from the M-A administration, who would be responsible for the complicated logistics. “It would ideally be somebody who is on the school’s side who would have the time to work on that. I think that if it were to be considered, the first step would be to contact Carlmont and find out what the timelines are in terms of the amount of work that has to take place. I think that would be an interesting question for somebody to try to find out. That information could be brought over to M-A or Sequoia or Woodside to see if any of those schools would also be interested.” Given the growing population of the district, Lippi says that he would be willing to look into hosting testing at M-A if a coordinator could be identified, though he underscored the logistical difficulties of testing administration, especially for the first time that either test would be hosted at the M-A campus.
For many students wishing for a more ideal testing situation, Lippi’s message is a sign of hope. However, change is not likely to occur unless the issue at hand is brought directly to the administration, and is supported by a large majority of the student population. If the ACT and SAT are brought to M-A, there is no doubt that many test takers can sleep easy the night before, with the knowledge that they will be able to take their exams in the most convenient and comfortable conditions possible.