The Student News Site of Lynbrook High School

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The Student News Site of Lynbrook High School

Horizon

The Student News Site of Lynbrook High School

Horizon

The Big Bad College Board

The+Big+Bad+College+Board
Sayge Rolnick

They infiltrate everything. From the confines of small high school classrooms to the college credit languidly whisking into course loads of college students, the College Board is ubiquitous. Nearly every student has had some sort of interaction with the College Board, whether it be through SAT exams, Advanced Placement (AP) classes, or other forms of monopolized curricula that the organization provides. What has this employed the College Board to do? Scarf down the future of American education–fast. 

According to recent progress reports done by the College Board (reports.collegeboard.org), in over 23,000 American high schools, there is at least one AP course offered. According to the College Board’s website, AP classes “[give] students the chance to tackle college-level work while they’re still in high school and earn college credit and placement.” What this statement does not account for are the nuances of AP curricula and its respective courses. “The curriculum is better written than when I started. In particular, both the AP Biology and AP Chemistry [Course and Exam Descriptions] have been streamlined, so it is easier to determine what is expected and what will be assessed,” remarked science teacher Peter Dennis. Dennis has been teaching AP courses for 12 years since his start at LHS as well as in other districts prior to Lynbrook. This improvement cannot be ignored, but it presents an interesting dialectic: because all high schools are different, particularly with reference to their caliber of difficulty and access to educational resources, an understaffed regular public school will inherently have more trouble maintaining “college-level” instruction compared to a wealthy and well-staffed private school. AP exams are also quite expensive. “Every AP exam is around 90 dollars,” explained senior Ashley Olalde. Olalde has taken a total of 10 AP classes and took the SAT twice. Though she received fee waivers for all of the exams, she remarked that, in total, the costs for their administration would have been over $1,000. “If you take multiple AP classes, that’s simply unrealistic, and if you don’t take the exams, then it shows poorly on your record. Of course, fee waivers are helpful, but I don’t think it should be so expensive in the first place,” Olalde furthered. 

Even if students do not take AP classes, the College Board’s second secret weapon is its administration of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, commonly known as the SAT. The SAT is one of the most broadly distributed standardized exams in the United States, in tandem with the ACT (American College Testing), which is administered by ACT, Inc. By virtue of their ubiquity, even if students do not take any AP courses in high school, they will almost definitely take the SAT or ACT. By a large margin, more students take the SAT each year; in the article “ACT vs. SAT: How to Decide Which Test to Take” as posted on US News (usnews.com), in 2023, 1.9 million high school students took the SAT, compared to 1.4 million high school students who took the ACT. Both of these numbers are large, but a .5 million difference is substantial. 

The key to a ubiquitous monopoly lies in the ability to be inconspicuous. The College Board as an organization is commonly thought to only administer AP and SAT exams, but its true breadth of control goes beyond its service of high schools. Ever-intertwined with the futures of young American students, the College Board has ways of controlling colleges, too. Though their website claims that they are not an association of colleges and universities, the College Board has associations with about 6,000 higher education institutions. This means that many educational institutions express an inherently partiality to the programs the College Board has established, often being more likely to accept AP scores and the SAT over the ACT results. Another way the College Board finds economic wiggle room is via the ocean of preparation books the organization sells. “There’s a big market for AP study materials and textbooks…which drives up costs even more,” Olalde explained. When checking out for SAT exams (which can run to exorbitant costs up to 98 dollars), a flashy invitation to purchase a SAT prep book (for “only $22.99” – what a steal!) catches the eye, and is subliminally representative of all of the College Board’s efforts to sell as much as possible. 

It is not just students who are frustrated with the far-reaching powers of the College Board. “I have interacted with the College Board–as a teacher–for AP classes since 2002. I took some APs…so I did interact with the College Board then, too,” explained math teacher Maria Mantikas. Thus, the effect that the College Board has had on educators stretches beyond simply the distribution of material, which has tended to unite students and teachers alike in their frustration. “Time is probably the biggest stressor. The AP exams are in early May. In the state of New York, we don’t start until September. I consistently have conversations with other AP teachers about the struggle to complete the curriculum and have adequate review time,” Dennis emphasized. “In my opinion, the College Board should administer the exam at a later date for schools like ours, but it probably won’t ever happen…We get the job done, but it’s not easy,” he furthered. 

In addition, both Dennis and Mantikas remarked on their difficulty managing the College Board website. For an education website laden with designs that emulate the fact that the College Board is “a non-profit organization that clears a path for all students to own their future…” (a floaty aphorism taken verbatim from its website), the organization’s site is far from effective. If the future always seems to be coming fast, the languid nature of their respective website and slowness of AP practice assignments, SAT practice tests, and other preparatory materials are baffling given the aforementioned profits the College Board makes off of students every year. (Maybe some of that money could be used to fix the website? But, perhaps this remark is too outlandish). 

Discussing the nuances of the College Board’s inability to execute what it ostensibly aims to do in a comprehensive way is merely the tip of the iceberg. As with any large organization, there have been questions about its very legality. The College Board is quite obviously stated to be a non-profit, but it rakes in a total of over one billion dollars every fiscal year, and there is almost no knowledge of what is done with this money. Miraculously, however, it is known that current Chief Executive Officer David Coleman is paid $1.8 million annually, and has faced much criticism and organizational requests asking for him to step down. Other educational non-profits, such as Teach for America and Save the Children, make a great deal of profit but are very transparent about their respective spending habits. The fact that the College Board does not do the same inherently draws a rift between what is known about the organization and what is kept secret; the latter remains substantial. 

So, the question arises: What is to be done about the College Board? In a world ever-thriving on monopolies across the global economy, education remains a shining target. A cohesive movement boycotting the College Board is unlikely. With the current precarious nature of public education, particularly in the United States, many schools rely on the College Board as their only mode of having access to challenging material and giving students a shot at higher education. However, students and teachers can be careful with their respective choices on how much money and information they provide the organization with. Canceling and opting out of data collection services that the College Board administers, such as its “BigFuture” program and the “Student Search Service” can limit the amount of data the organization can collect. Instead, students can look to other online, non-profit education services, such as Khan Academy (khanacademy.org), Questbridge (questbridge.org), and ScholarMatch (scholarmatch.org). Calling one’s educational representatives in the New York State Education Department (otherwise known as “phone-banking”) and explaining concerns can help assembly members be mindful of these issues. Change will always be gradual, particularly in a world laden with monopolies like the College Board; working towards a better tomorrow that ensures accountability is essential for equity. Sometimes, you just have to stick it to the man. 

 

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About the Contributor
Sayge Rolnick, Managing Editor
I am a graphics editor for Horizon and a member of the LHS Class of 2025.