Testing Equity and the International Student

We prepped for months…. Actually since 10th grade.

Time and strategy with a student to craft a plan to handle all the things required in the senior year:

  • Timeline for all IB assignments? Check.
  • Testing needs for first choice school? Check.
  • Thoughts and ideas for personal statement with goal dates? Check.
  • Recommendations sorted, a smart college list created? Check.

But it seems that around every corner, rules changed or were not clear, and adjustments had to be made. Test dates and school finals running during the same week. Discrepancies at one testing site due to shortened time and mismanagement. A small crack in confidence during an exam in 11th grade after studying for exams has led to taking one more test at the start of 12th because the score wasn’t good enough.

Now I have a student who doesn’t know what to do because in the middle of a test administration, because of rules being set for domestic considerations and not international, they now have to wait to take another test.

How often do you tell a stunning student to keep their head up, don’t worry, everything will work out?

This started with prep for SAT Subject exams because the first choice dream school is one of only a handful that requires that for admission. But internationally, SAT limits the type of subject exams available for international students and dates. So although they wanted to sit for the World History exam because that is their strength and choice, I have a strong social scientist preparing like crazy to take a subject test in areas that are not their passion. I guess it is assumed that all international students just want to study to become doctors or engineers.

Or with today’s ACT computerized administration. Semantics led to the site being closed; decided by someone who does not work in a school or deals with students every day. They can take it again but where? Will the scores be back in time for the early application deadline? For some, like my student, this was their last chance to raise their score. Although this student is one of the highest performing kids in their class.

All of this stress and disappointment to apply to a few schools that are held in high regard because of their name.

I can’t help but compare it to working with my students in Gary, Indiana. My students were the poorest of the poor: 98% free lunch, single-parent household, 20% in foster care. The hope of a better life and to go to college was a way up and out. But instead of money, access, and trained professionals being the limits for lower income domestic students, sprinkle distance and fair policies and you have the international student.

I know that this is an oversimplification of issues of testing and admissions equity for international students, but let me explain where I am coming from with this.

It is easier for a domestic student to get a waiver for testing and college applications on the word of their counselor and school, while it’s assumed that an international student can afford whatever they need if they are at a certain school. Costs for testing is more expensive for international students. Domestic students have access to twice as many standardized test dates than the international student. Domestic students also often have access to more testing centers than the international student. Because of pockets of rampant cheating in a handful of areas, international students are all lumped into the same limiting pool where in some cases, students have to fly to a different country to take an exam.

Compound that with the added pressures of getting into the right school because the hopes and dreams of your family rest on your shoulders, or that the brand name school is the only one family and friends consider as good, and you have the same brilliant students applying to the same places.

Colleges and college counselors like me are also complicit in this madness. Because no matter how we feel about a school and the right fit for a student, we also have to push a test or a chance to do better.

It takes the fun out of the real work that happens during this time of year. Senior year is about stress, but it is also about being a part of a decision making process. This is a student’s first opportunity of making a major adult decision. How amazing is it to be a person who gets to witness that?

However, all I know is that I am so tired of seeing my students resting their entire life on the basis of a score on an arbitrary day.

I am also tired of the name brand schools not acknowledging that testing equity for the international student is a huge problem.

I am also sick and tired of testing agencies making decisions for all, and not being thoughtful regarding the needs of students depending on where they are located.

I admit that I don’t have the answers about how this can be better. But I will continue to do my part as a counselor: making my students feel valued, showing them great schools who know that a students worth is not the exam, and continue to fight the good fit fight with their parents.

But in the meantime, unfortunately, my student and I will have to find another test to take.

A writer, social worker, and counselor who loves a good Spotify playlist. Follow me @mscdmcdade on Twitter, Spotify, and Clubhouse.

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