In education, advantage is what advantage does.

“The Coronavirus May Change College Admissions Forever: A pandemic returns the focus to what matters: education.”* — NY Times;Frank Bruni

Regardless of school districts’ school opening’ plans, this COVID 19 School Year (SY) will absolutely produce student losers and winners. And of course, those two categories will follow the ‘standard path and pattern’ of who (and who does not) presently receive a quality education in our nation. I was particularly drawn to this part of a NY Times column:

“But a more broadly consequential change involves standardized tests. Because the pandemic prevented students last spring from gathering to take the SAT and ACT exams, many selective schools are not requiring them for the time being. That will force them to focus more than ever on the toughness of the high school courses that students took and the grades they got.

Which students will benefit from that? It’s complicated. On one hand, affluent students who are coached for these exams and usually take them repeatedly won’t get to flaunt their high scores. On the other hand, less privileged students from high schools whose academic rigor is a question mark in screeners’ minds won’t have impressive scores to prove their mettle…”

The writer suggests that “It’s complicated” to determine who benefits from this “No SAT/ACT” admissions criteria year, but I disagree. According to my conversations over the years with many officials who sit on college admission selection committees, the level of ‘academic rigor,’ the quality of the school’s in-class and out-of-class enrichment programs (e.g., electives, clubs, academic teams, etc.), and activities figured highly in the selection process. A student can take a course in school X, and another student can take that same course in school Y, and the people who sit on these admissions panels know that the grades awarded in those two classes could be radically unequal. In some high schools that serve our poorest and most politically disentitled students, a ‘passing grade’ (and even a ‘graduation diploma’) could be granted even if the student does not show up to school or class for the required ‘seat-time’ or ‘contact hours’! The colleges are fully aware of the identities and locations of these school districts and schools. And it’s not a stretch to imagine the colors and nationalities of the students who are the majority population in the offending school districts and schools.

College admissions officers are also able to ‘separate’ individual schools from their school districts (identifying individual ‘smart and capable’ students who attend Title-1 school will be harder this year); thus my being able (Science Skills Center and Phelps ACE high schools) to get students into many great colleges, with full or substantial scholarship support; despite our Title-1 status. This was in part because we made every effort in and outside of the classroom to be and present as ‘top-tier’ high schools (Colleges: “Please send us your graduates!”). The students high performances on state and national standardized exams also greatly helped those efforts. I’m not sure how that will work for similar schools in this Coronavirus school year.

This is why I held my applause when the “No SAT/ACT” (this year) college admissions policy was announced, because I believe that now the extra emphasis being placed on the “Quality of the school’s academic profile” could hurt academically strong students’ who, due to no fault of their own, attend ‘weak,’ (a large part due to underfunding, poor leadership, and a poor teaching and learning environment) schools. These students could also be carrying the extra (zip code burden) ‘negative-weight’ of having attended a high school in a ‘low-graduation requirements’ (less academically rigorous) school district.

Prior to this year, the strong admissions argument that could be made for these Title-1 school kids was their standardized test scores (state and national) and them taking in high school (Advanced Placement) and on-college campuses college courses. I also feel that ‘homeschooled’ high school students might also be placed in a disadvantaged position without having those SAT/ACT scores to prove their academic capabilities. We need, from national leaders, a special Black, Latino (and poor White) students college admissions advocacy movement and program for the 2020-2021 COVID-19 SY.

One of the reasons I always caution parents and community leaders from prematurely ‘jumping-on’ the anti-testing ‘bandwagon’ is that standardized exams like the SAT/AP/ACT etc. can remove the subjectivity, racial bias, and prejudice decision-making factors that deny and damages the dreams of so many children in our society. Large numbers of the Asian-American community have wisely figured this out!

“Change the joke and slip the yoke”—Ralph Ellison.

I have warned parents and communities, who are often easily distracted (e.g., social integration versus having a quality instructional program) and miss the critical policy decisions that keep their children in a permanent state of receiving a terrible second class educational experience; to ‘read-the-small-print’ and ‘disclaimers’ that is written into every public education initiative and policy decision. But I guess one of the advantages of ‘advantage’ is that your children do well and win in moments of crisis or no crisis conditions.

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