Community Commentary: Test scores not the only decider

The ongoing SAT cheating scandal, where 20 former high school students from a wealthy Long Island community allegedly accepted money to impersonate current high school students for the purposes of taking the test for them, has cast a bright spotlight on the enormous pressure high school students feel to gain admission to the top colleges and universities.

As an educator who works closely with high school-age students on a daily basis, this is a matter I have paid close attention to. While I in no way condone the alleged actions, a part of me can understand the driving force behind their decision. From the moment they start school, students are constantly exposed to messages about the importance of a college education—from parents, marketers and advertisers, the media, etc. The result for many students is a high level of pressure.

Rather than condemning these students, it would be far more constructive to use this as an opportunity to further the dialogue regarding the impact of SAT and ACT exams on college admissions and the unnecessary pressures we put on the backs of teenage children. Wouldn't it be better for us to work together—college and high school educators along with parents—in helping reduce the amount of stress students feel when it comes to applying to colleges and universities? Shouldn't our first and primary concern be the well-being of children?

I understand that the SAT and ACT are tests that colleges across the country review when making decisions on applicants and that they are a necessary evil. As such, it makes sense that many schools across the country provide test prep courses in order to maximize student performance. However, I think it would be to everyone's benefit to minimize the impact of such tests, as there's no way to encapsulate a student's full intellectual and social potential in their SAT or ACT score.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing reports that nearly 850 colleges admit substantial numbers of applicants without considering SAT or ACT test scores. Unfortunately, with more than 4,100 institutes of higher education in the United States, that means the vast majority do rely on standardized test scores when considering applicants.

It's critical to look at the student's whole body of work—academics, athletics, extracurricular activities, community service, etc. It's just as crucial for students to understand that just because they didn't get accepted at Harvard, Yale or Stanford doesn't mean they have failed. At Fusion Academy & Learning Center in Huntington Beach, the main focus of our SAT/ACT prep course is to make sure students are relaxed and comfortable during the examination as a result of understanding this concept.

While I know that many high school guidance counselors emphasize this point as well, we must continue to be vigilant in delivering this message in order to change the perception of our children. After all, there will be plenty of stuff to worry about when they get older.

MARYAM POURMOHSEN is head of school at Fusion Academy & Learning Center in Huntington Beach.

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