After 20+ years of preparing students for test day, I had a "first" this past week: I dropped my daughter off for her official ACT test day.
It's crazy to think that after all of these years working with students and parents, I had never gone through an official test day experience as a parent. Now that I have, I am reminded of two major things:
#1) Test Day is Stressful: My students and followers of this blog know that I preach stress management as THE key to a successful test day. A stressed brain does not perform as well as an unstressed brain.
My daughter has heard this hundreds of times, from her early years when she would be in the classroom while I was teaching, to the past several months when we have done individual tutoring sessions.
To make sure she didn't stress, we arrived early to San José State where the test was given. We took a relaxing walk around campus while deep breathing to de-stress.
Our leisurely walk was met with an immediate wave of stress when we approached the building and saw a line forming. "Oh shoot," we both said, "look at that line!" Trying to remain calm, we scampered to get in line as streams of students queued up. There were actually two lines forming, one much longer than the other. "Stay here and I will figure this out," I said.
I ran to the front to see what was going on and out came what appeared to be a testing coordinator who barked, "If you have your admissions ticket, get in the left line. If you are on stand-by, go the right line. Parents need to move away from the line!" He said this in a loud and commanding voice which I am sure was necessary to herd the students but did not help ease any stress. And he repeated it, many times. So much for our deep breaths.
Wanting to avoid stressing out my daughter any more, I made sure she was in the right line, I gave her a good luck fist bump and I walked away.
#2) Test Access is Unequal: Yes, ACT and SAT results are historically higher for students who speak English as a first language and who come from families with higher education and income levels. That results are tied to language, income and education is nothing new to me. I've seen the reports for years.
But what struck me while I was dropping my daughter off is how these results are essentially predetermined because access to the tests themselves is unequal.
Consider our situation: there was no local testing option in the Monterey area where we live. So we had to travel to San José, CA. This is about an hour away for us, which is not terrible. But we decided to get a hotel near the testing center so that my daughter could wake up later and not stress about getting to the testing center.
Now, not all families can do this. Or would even consider doing this. What about the families that have to travel even larger distances who cannot afford a hotel room?
We are also planning on doing this all over again in the fall because I know test scores typically go up on the second or even third sitting. But other families are not in a position to do this over and over.
Yes, there are fee waivers for testing. And the test-optional movement is showing that SAT and ACT scores are not needed in the process of admission for most schools. But the narrative that test scores help admission and help financial aid is very clear from many schools.
So if families lack the funds and resources, then test access is the problem. Test results may be unequal but the real issue is unequal access.
As I walked back to the hotel, I passed by the spectacular statue of John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the middle of the San José State campus. I also walked through downtown San José and was witness to several homeless people on the streets. The juxtaposition of my privilege against the historical and ongoing battle for justice and equity was not lost on me.
Ultimately we did everything we possibly could have done to ensure my daughter's test day was as successful as possible. Lucky us. In all honesty, I mean that. Even if we stressed out a little on test day.