An SAT Safety Saga

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Photo/Isabelle Snyder

470 students wait to enter the SAT test administration outside State High on the morning of August 29, 2020.

Isabelle Snyder, WSCH Executive Producer

This August, 469 of my peers and I embarked on a rite of passage central to the plot of every high school drama: the SAT. The dismal weather seemed to be taking its cue from the students standing below. Some stood frozen, eyes locked in the distance, others jittery and talkative, both dreading and anticipating the hours ahead. The scene, in and of itself, sounds pretty ordinary for a group of high schoolers taking their post-graduation lives in their hands. But that utter mundaneness is in fact what makes this morning anything but ordinary. Let us not forget, we are in month 6 of a global pandemic, and State High is located at the epicenter of an unprecedented spike in cases for Centre County. The long line outside the building, the crowds of students chatting and jostling, that all felt like something from the “before-times.” So this is a story, not of star-studded standardized testing success, but of the College Board’s failure to uphold needed safety measures, and the way we rolled over and let it happen. 

“That’s the most amount of people I’ve seen in one place since before quarantine,” senior Payton Treaster said. 

The doors were set to open at 7:45 a.m. and close promptly at 8. When I arrived at 7:50, the line of students wound twice around the parking lot in front of the building. The test was delayed nearly an hour and a half, with all students finally entering the building around an hour after the doors opened. 

“I just felt like there should have been multiple entrances because everyone was packed in the long line in front,” senior Rebecca Zeigler said. 

Worse than the line, however, were the safety measures taken, or rather the lack thereof. While a safety screening is mandated by the College Board prior to admittance to the testing center, the questions were, at best, ineffective. Students were asked if they had come closer than 6 feet to someone with COVID, experienced symptoms themselves, or entered the testing center in violation of travel restrictions. Finally, we were told to acknowledge the risk involved in taking the SAT, and promise to wear our masks the entire time. 

These questions are clearly designed to protect the College Board, not the students or the school. Now, I know a set of written questions can only accomplish so much, but still. Are we really expecting students to admit to coming in contact with someone who has contracted COVID after months of studying, weeks of panic and pressure, and waiting in line outside the testing center for an hour? They even come out and say it in the final question. We have accepted the risk, so when something goes wrong, it’s on us. No, not the national organization that gathered us all together and stuffed us into a building like sardines. 

To make matters worse, most of us weren’t even asked the screening questions as we entered the building. 

“The questions on the health screening created an unanticipated major delay and contributed to the line that extended for quite a distance. We did have 5 stations set-up upon entry, 30-minutes prior to the student reporting time, to expedite the process, however, we would likely need many more stations if we tried to use the same admission procedure. I’m sure this was not anticipated by the College Board, especially with larger test centers,” State High counselor and SAT Test Administrator Steve Guthoff said. 

So there we were, being ushered into the building as the rain started to fall, with no discussion of COVID symptoms, contact tracing, or travel restrictions. It was about 15 minutes later, as we nervously fiddled with our pencils, that the intercom crackled to life, and the questions were asked to all of us. We were instructed to raise our hands if we had come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID, had experienced symptoms, or had crossed state/county lines in violation of travel restrictions. Unsurprisingly, no one raised their hands.

The proctors, too, were unreliable when it came to safety measures. 

“She was coughing the entire time and sometimes, after she took her mask down for a drink, she just straight up coughed in the room,” senior Franklin Dorman said while recalling his proctor.

If you cannot bring yourself to wear a mask, you’re not evil, but you do need to stay home, in the name of all things good and holy. And please, please stay out of a public school on test day!

“I was taking subject tests, so there were only ten people in my room, but the proctor told us if we needed to pull our masks down to take a few deep breaths, it would be fine. He also kept taking his own mask off,” senior Claire Tyburski said. 

So, here’s the tea. The College Board set us up for failure, and we let it happen. 470 students tested in our building, half of which were from outside our district, from as far as New York City, New Jersey, and Boston. The health screening was ineffective, and the safety standards differed between proctors. As far as we know, no one has tested positive for COVID as a direct result of the SAT at State High, and we should consider ourselves lucky.

It’s not all bad news, however. In the wake of the August 29 fiasco, State High, led by the counseling department, reached out to the College Board, requesting that we be allowed to limit future SATs to only students in our district. Their answer? No. If we want to be a testing center, we have to open the flood gates to all the germs populating the east coast. Rather than give in to the will of the almighty system, State High took a stand and canceled its SATs up to November 7th. While this may be a bummer for those of us hoping to get a few extra points before the Early Decision Deadline, I couldn’t be prouder of the choice. 

Though there was a learning curve, and a pretty major one at that, seeing as it endangered the lives of 470 students and proctors and administration, our school has taken a stand for safety. I guess all we can do now is wear a mask, continue social distancing, and hope that all returns to normal by…2040. 

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