Test Not So Optional

Juniors Take Standardized Tests in New Landscape


Photo credit: Caroline Skok

Typical ACT materials used by a high school student — book, pencils, and watch.

As the leaves turn green, the ice melts, the sunlight lasts longer than 4 p.m., students begin to eat lunch on the courtyard, softball and baseball take over the field, and wearing skirts without tights becomes socially acceptable again, one inconvenience doesn’t blissfully fade away for Parker juniors: the ACT and SAT. In 2021, the number of students who took the ACT declined by 22% from 2020. That equates to more than 375,000 students. In the grand scale of things, this meant an overall decline from a total of nearly 1.7 million test-takers in 2020 to just under 1.3 million. 

In reaction to the pandemic, which meant more test site cancellations and obstacles, 80% of schools are ACT/SAT-optional or test-blind for current high school seniors. This new ability to apply to colleges without a report of testing scores creates opportunities for students to opt out of taking either test.

At Parker, students have this same ability to choose. However, many students in the class of 2023 are continuing not only to test, but also to study, talk, and stress about the test.

“I am taking the ACT,” junior Gefen Horn said. “I’ve been tutoring and giving myself pep talks to prepare.” 

While lots of students opt to tutor, some opt to study solo. “I’m taking the ACT, and I’ve been preparing since mid-November,” junior Mollie Gross said. “I was with a tutor for two or two and a half months, but I found I got more out of just practicing on my own. So I ordered the official ACT book from Amazon that has a lot of great content and practice quizzes. I’ve seen more improvement from doing that than I have with a tutor.”

Many students tutor for the ACT using companies specifically created for the test. This includes the Academic Approach. Although the company has a variety of tutors available, this year many students have the same person. 

“I have one of the tutors basically 50 of my peers also have. His name is Tim. He’s a good guy,” junior Gray Joseph said. “He’s really helpful. I meet with him once a week and do test prep stuff.”

With the ACT comes great stress and great gossip. “The culture’s toxic because I feel like when people do really well, they say it and they’re like, ‘OMG I did so well. I don’t have to take it again. Hard work pays off,’” Horn said. 

“The ACT is maybe the worst part of Parker culture, especially in the high school,” Gross said. “I think everyone kind of forgets that the national average is a 20. A 20. Do you guys hear me? A 20. There’s a wide range of scores that colleges will accept and it doesn’t define you. It’s literally a f—ing test.” 

In recent years, the phenomenon of paying for testing time, right answers, and extra help has dominated the news around these tests. This culture lives within the walls of Parker too, circulating through whispers in hallways, classrooms, and the cafeteria. 

“I don’t understand why some people were able to obtain extra time the last six months of their life leading up to the ACT when they’ve never had it before,” an anonymous junior boy prepping for the ACT said. “I thought ACT was pretty strict on that sort of accommodation. I totally understand why someone with previous accommodations would have them for it, and not only do I feel for that person but I think it’s totally warranted. When you ask someone why they get extra time and they can’t even give you a solid answer, it is kind of odd.”

Rumors of who gives out extra time diagnosis and aids the process roam the building. “I’ve heard of people literally going to a woman by Mariano’s Grocery Store for extra time,” said Gross. “I’m so serious. Basically the ACT only tells colleges if you can afford a good tutor and test well.”

“I think we’re all fools to act like this doesn’t happen,” an anonymous junior boy said. “It totally does. I’m saying this because I absolutely hate this s–t. It really pisses me off. The people who are running these things make so much money. We have to admit that people are using their privilege to get advantages.”