Colleges Should Permanently Adopt Test-Optional Policies

by Sally Jamrog


May 28, 2022

Since the spring of 2020, the number of colleges and universities in the United States that have adopted test-optional policies has rapidly increased, “nearly doubl[ing] (from 713-1350) as of February 2022.”1 While many of these policies, which allow applicants to choose whether to submit SAT or ACT scores, were designed to be temporary and were initially implemented to mitigate student exposure to COVID-19 at standardized testing sites, record admission booms and more diverse applicant pools resulting from these policies have caused many colleges to reconsider their longstanding standardized testing traditions.

As of today, more than 1,400 higher education institutions have already extended test-optional policies for rising seniors applying for 2023 college admission.2 Boston University (BU), for example, after experiencing a 24% increase in applications in 2021, has extended its newly-adopted test-optional policy for the third consecutive year, stating that this shift has made BU’s admissions system more comprehensive.3 “While the admissions process at Boston University has always been holistic and decisions have never been based solely on one single factor, such as an SAT or ACT score,” an article in BU Today reports, “the move to test-optional over the past two years has improved our process by adding considerable weight to the important qualities and characteristics that focus more on you and your academic and personal accomplishments.”4 In addition to BU, many of the nation’s more selective colleges have announced test-optional policies moving forward, such as Harvard University, which has extended this choice through to the incoming class of 2026 in order to research the effect of the shift on the Harvard student body. The University of California is a more extreme example, having recently announced a permanent test-optional policy for all ten schools in its system.5

Despite this test-optional trend, certain institutions hesitate to break away from the near hundred-year tradition of using standardized testing in the college admissions process. Some colleges value the inclusion of SAT or ACT scores in an application as a means to create a more streamlined and standard metric with which to evaluate the academic aptitude of an ever- increasing number of applicants. For instance, in an interview with CNN, Dean of Admissions for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Stu Schmill argued that standardized test scores are particularly useful to MIT in determining student fluency with mathematics. “There is no path through MIT that does not rest on a rigorous foundation in mathematics,” Schmill says, “and we need to be sure students are ready for that as soon as they arrive.”6

Regardless of the possible merits of these tests, the problems with requiring SAT and ACT scores lie in that they are not necessarily effective at predicting academic performance and can be too easily gamed by members of higher socioeconomic strata. It appears that the SAT and ACT do not actually contribute unique information. According to a presentation by Bates College at the 2004 National Association of College Admissions Counselors, “graduation rates between [standardized test score] submitters and non-submitters [at Bates College] varied by only 0.1%, and average Bates GPAs varied by only 0.05%. In addition, non-submitters had slightly higher graduation rates.”7 Besides lacking predictive power, these tests also fail to control for external factors. Tanay Nambiar ‘22 comments, “Standardized testing like the SAT or ACT will never portray an objective truth about a student’s ability. With so many variables affecting students differently, it would not be fair to compare test scores.” Moreover, for many colleges, grasping who a student is as an individual is equally as important as understanding their academic prowess in determining whether an applicant is a good fit for their institutions. Requiring standardized test scores during the college admissions process runs the risk of excluding or deterring lower-scoring applicants who could thrive in a certain college community.

Furthermore, more financially-privileged test-takers can also have an unfair advantage in being  able to afford professional tutoring through private test-prep companies like Princeton Review and Kaplan Test Prep, which can cost thousands of dollars.8 Popular one-on-one, personalized sessions with a practiced tutor can cost even more, with prices ranging from $40 to $800 per hour or more. These kinds of opportunities create starkly unfair advantages for wealthier test-takers compared to those who cannot afford a preparation plan or even spend time preparing for the SAT or ACT. Oftentimes, more affluent students can afford to take these tests multiple times (registration for the SAT and ACT costs around $60 without a fee waiver, which only covers two attempts), which has been proven to increase scores on average. Because financial status and race are often closely tied, the SAT and ACT have also been found to discriminate against minorities, putting Black and Hispanic Americans at a disadvantage. According to data collected by the College Board from the test results of the class of 2020, “Over half (59%) of white and four-fifths of Asian test-takers met the college readiness math benchmark, compared to less than a quarter of Black students and under a third of Hispanic or Latino students.”9

As colleges place more value on viewing applicants holistically, they should implement permanent test-optional or test-flexible policies to even the playing fields for low-income applicants and more effectively evaluate students’ academic abilities, giving more weight to personal essays, GPA, recommendations, and other components of the application. Additionally, colleges could supplement the application process by adding opportunities for students to prove themselves in a variety of more applicant-customized ways. For instance, Vassar College allocates space in their application for students to submit anything of additional academic or creative value that might contribute to their profile: a blank page for them to utilize as they see fit. Tanay also mentions that Brown University has recently implemented a video portfolio submission opportunity for its application in place of an optional interview. Like the Vassar application’s blank page component, creating this two-minute video portfolio is another way for applicants to present themselves in their own unique light, a short introduction including the applicant’s name and high school being one of the only content requirements for the video.10

These additional methods to more comprehensively evaluate applicants should, however, be coupled with a mindfulness of the time and work applicants will need to put into these applications, as more application components could add more stress to the college process for applicants. However, while removing the straightforward rubric of a standardized test score may lengthen the evaluation process, expanding applications to allow for more student self-expression would be a more equitable and ultimately more effective solution to determine a student’s readiness for a particular college. As Katie Kara’a ‘22 says, “Lots of colleges talk about their ‘holistic review process,’ and I think that removing the standardized testing portion of it makes it more holistic and allows [colleges] to focus more on the applicant as a person than as a test score.” Though certain colleges may have data-driven reasons for requiring standardized test scores, as in the case of MIT, extending test-optional application policies for years to come is a significant step forward in making the college admission process as equally centered on applicant authenticity as it is on numeric evaluations.

1 Darrel Lovell and Daniel Madison, “How Test-Optional College Admissions Expanded During the Covid-19 Pandemic: An Essay For the Learning Curve,” Urban Institute, February 2022,

2 “1,835+ Accredited, 4-Year Colleges & Universities with ACT/SAT Optional Testing Policies for Fall 2022 Admissions,” Fair Test, April 20, 2022,

3 Rich Barlow, “BU Is Making Standardized Tests Optional for Undergrad Applicants for Third Consecutive Year,” BU Today, January 20, 2022,

4 See 3.

5 Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, “University of California Will No Longer Consider SAT and ACT Scores,” The New York Times, May 15, 2021,

6 Eric Levenson, “MIT will once again require applicants to take the SAT or ACT, bucking the anti-test movement,” CNN, March 29, 2022,

7 “A Brief History of the Test-Optional Movement in Higher Education,” DePaul University, March 18, 2011,

8 Ann Carns, “Another College Expense: Preparing for the SAT and ACT,” The New York Times, October 28, 2014,

9 Ember Smith and Richard V. Reeves, “SAT math scores mirror and maintain racial inequity,” Brookings, December 1, 2020,

10 “Video Introduction/Alumni Interview,” Brown University,

The Dangers of Idolizing Zelensky

by Therese Askarbek


March 31, 2022

The most recent invasion and attack of Ukraine in February have sparked protests around the world against the war waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin. As cities such as Mariupol are relentlessly bombed and invaded by Russian tanks, the escalating war has been on the minds of many in the US. Concerns over rising gas prices, relatives and friends living in Ukraine, and the consequences of Russia’s power grab are just a few of many that have been plaguing the country and news outlets since the war officially broke out. Aside from the muddle of anxiety and concern, liberals and conservatives alike have begun idolizing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Memes of him in uniform with other soldiers in the trenches or sitting around a table compared to Putin sitting alone have been trending online as an alleged testament of his groundedness and courageousness. Some, on social media platforms such as TikTok, have gone as far as making fan-edited videos of him, the comments filled with remarks on his physical attractiveness and their infatuation with him. There are several things wrong with this type of rhetoric. 

When looking at the state of post-Soviet countries, a major commonality between them is a near universal issue of corruption. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus has been run by a dictatorship under Alexander Lukashenko, who is known for jailing his opponents and censoring the press.1 Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has kept Turkmenistan firmly under his control, with no one allowed to dissent or contradict his policies. In Kazakhstan, citizens have become increasingly discontented with their reduced rights and the wealth gap, with the elite clutching tightly to most of the country’s wealth. Ukraine is no exception to the corruption plaguing these countries since 1991. Under the oligarchic regime in which Zelensky is president, Ukrainian officials and parliament members have been plundering money from the state budget. They were reported to have stolen a fifth of the country’s output per year from 2010 to 2014.2 Though many were hopeful that, if voted into the presidential office, Zelensky would put an end to the corrupt government practices, he proved to be corrupt himself when the Pandora papers were leaked. These papers suggested that Zelensky had a stake in an offshore company that he had transferred to a friend just weeks before being elected.3 He appointed loyalists and his friends to high posts in the government and was backed by a billionaire who owned the network Zelensky worked on as an actor for the hit show “Servant of the People.”4 His promise to tackle corruption was left unfulfilled, with the same issues still prevalent in the country as before. 

Though he has proven to be steadfast, brave, and unwavering in the face of an onslaught of Russian attacks, he is not exempt from criticism. By solely focusing our attention on these qualities he has exemplified, we become dangerously close to complacency, not only with politicians abroad, but in the US as well. As we have seen with Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and “the Squad,” idolizing any politician causes us to lose our objectivity and to find ourselves unable to hold our “favorite” politicians accountable. 

In this particular instance, the ramifications of indulging in passionate displays of affection for Zelensky or treating him like an infallible hero are also profoundly insensitive to the Ukranians suffering from the war. Recently, the New York Post reported that US “fans” were begging for Jeremy Renner to portray Zelensky in a future biopic—as Ukranians were being bombed in their homes.5 In idolizing him, a real, traumatic war is effectively sensationalized. It is turned into trivial fodder for people to entertain themselves with. Whatever one may think of Zelensky, we need to apply mindful, critical analysis to politicians and their policies in order to consciously work our way through the chaos that is today’s current events. 

1 Justin Burke, “Post-Soviet World: what you need to know about the 15 states,” The Guardian, June 9, 2014,

2 Oliver Bullough, “Welcome to Ukraine, the most corrupt nation in Europe,” The Guardian, February 6, 2015,

3 Luke Harding, “Revealed: ‘anti-oligarch’ Ukrainian President’s offshore connections,” The Guardian, October 3, 2021,

4 Anna Myroniuk, “Opinion: I did not vote for Ukraine’s president. His courage has changed my mind and inspired millions,” The Washington Post, February 27, 2022,

5 Andrew Court, “Fans cast Jeremy Renner as Zelensky in fantasy Ukraine invasion film: Too soon?,” The New York Post, February 28, 2022,

The Dangers of Social Media for Children and Teens, and How We Can Work to Mitigate Them

by Sally Jamrog


November 23, 2021

Facebook’s launch in 2004 plunged the world into a new era of constant engagement, and as diverse social media platforms have continued to rise and thrive, by capitalist societal standards, they have become the embodiment of twenty-first-century commercial success. The real success of these platforms, however, should instead be quantified based on how they affect their users, especially younger generations, since Meta Platforms, Inc. and other social media companies have, in light of their commercial aptitude, turned a blind eye to social media’s more toxic effects. With American teens spending an average of more than a third of their day outside of school-related activities on screens absorbing media, these dangers have become crucial to address.1

Logging onto social media is no longer a fully conscious choice. According to Tristan Harris, co-founder and president of the Center for Humane Technology and former design ethicist at Google, “Social media isn’t a tool that’s just waiting to be used; it has its own goals and it has its own means of pursuing them by using your own psychology against you.”2 Social media has become a serious addiction, ingrained in our daily habits and whims to the extent that it steals our time and interferes with schedules. To generate content that keeps users engaged and scrolling, social media platforms use algorithms and artificial intelligence to best determine what types of content will keep a user’s attention and thus have the most economic success. In and of itself, this type of tactic is to be expected within the bounds of American capitalism, but with social media, when people are exclusively treated as products with rarely any regulation or concern for mental health, it seems morally questionable to continue to advertise these platforms as ways to foster human connection. Even more questionable is for these companies to keep targeting a younger, more vulnerable population, as children and young adults are still experiencing cognitive development. Ultimately, Facebook, Instagram, Snap(chat), and other social media platforms are for-profit organizations that were not designed to protect kids. It might be even in these organizations’ best commercial interests to exploit their younger users as a way to increase their user base.

In recent years, companies like Meta Platforms, Inc. have worked on creating social media platforms more suitable for kids aged thirteen years or younger, such as Instagram Kids. These platforms may create a safer social media environment for kids, as many of these platforms do regulate their content accordingly. But since large-scale censorship on these platforms is usually determined by an algorithm rather than a human, it is often not possible to completely censor harmful content on a site. “To be honest, I don’t think there’s a way to create a completely ‘safe’ version of anything online. I think you can put in restrictions and try your best to make a safe space, but there will always be people who bypass that,” says Sarah Emmert ‘24. According to a study performed by Common Sense Media, an organization dedicated to informing families about media, on YouTube Kids, 27% of the videos watched by children ages eight and younger contain depictions of violence and other graphic content.3 To keep turning a profit, these companies also still advertise to YouTube Kids users who have not purchased the ad-free YouTube Premium. 

Similarly, while parental controls can work to mitigate social media access for kids, they are not a solution for all families. “I think parental controls are effective only if the relationship between parent and child is one that sets boundaries in a healthy way and there is complete trust on both sides. Parental controls are only truly effective at keeping kids away from social media if they are backed up by understanding on both sides,” says Therese Askarbek ‘24. In the same vein, general age restrictions on potentially inappropriate social media platforms such as YouTube or Instagram often fail to deter kids from interacting with these platforms. “The age limit for most social media platforms is thirteen because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which was passed in 1998,” says Rohan Biju ‘23, leader of BUA’s YouTube Tech Review club. “COPPA restricts websites from tracking data on children under thirteen, which is why most apps do not want kids younger than thirteen to join.” Unfortunately, a recent report instigated by Thorn, an organization that works to combat international child abuse, claims that out of one thousand children surveyed internationally from ages eight to seventeen, 40% of the individuals under thirteen years of age already had access to either Facebook or Instagram.4 Because kids are getting more exposure to these platforms at increasingly younger ages, they are more and more likely to form habits of frequent social media usage that will follow them through their teenage years and into adulthood.

Researchers have also observed that some social media platforms have more of an effect on mental health than others, particularly when it comes to teens and preteens. Meta Platforms’ published Instagram investigation states that “social comparison is worse on Instagram,” whose primary focus, unlike other social media apps such as TikTok that focus more on video sharing, is on a person’s physical appearance and way of life.5 With posts on Instagram specifically reflecting everyone’s personal “highlight reel,” an unhealthy culture of comparison has emerged that has proved detrimental to teenage mental health, exacerbating depression and anxiety by creating impossible standards for beauty and lifestyle. An increase in suicide rates and rates for hospital admissions for non-fatal self-harm in teenage girls even seems to correlate with the point when social media first became available on mobile devices, increasing substantially since 2009. Compared with the average rate from 2001 to 2010, in teenage girls aged fifteen to nineteen, suicide rates saw a 70% increase after 2009, while in teenage girls aged ten to fourteen, suicide rates increased by 151%.2

Despite these negative effects, social media platforms are not entirely without positive value. Vicky Rideout, an advocate for children and families concerning social media, recently released a study on the ways social media can affect teens, which shows that social media platforms can have both positive and negative consequences to mental health. During her experiment, she interviewed a sample of teens. Although 17% of the teens reported that social media had the opposite effect and 40% remained neutral, 43% reported that social media increased their positive emotions.6 Unfortunately, the positive aspects of social media have been overshadowed by the negative health consequences of social media companies’ profit-oriented agenda. For instance, if these platforms defined their success based on user happiness instead, social media could have a more worthwhile and positive influence overall. The issue then becomes reconciling the commercial motives of these companies with more ethical behavior. In his article for the Harvard Business Review, Andy Wu, a professor in business administration, illustrates this issue with what he calls the “Facebook Trap,” arguing that the same networking strategies that made Meta Platforms, Inc. (formerly Facebook) incredibly successful will now be the cause of its downfall.7 A more ethical approach, in combination with educating young users about the effects of social media, would be a step in a healthier direction. As Alvin Lu ‘23, co-leader of BUA’s computer science club, says, “I find the most effective way [to do this] is to teach children how to not let social media impact their mental health negatively. […] Proper education will definitely become more important as children use [social media] more often.” The education of children and teens to cultivate more awareness of these platforms’ motives and side effects could help to check social media’s negative ramifications. For social media to live up to its best purpose, that of uniting communities and strengthening global relationships, Meta Platforms, Inc. and similar companies need to balance making money with preserving human sanity.

1 Hayley Tsukayama, “Teens spend nearly nine hours every day consuming media,” The Washington Post, November 3, 2015,

2 Jeff Orlowski, dir. The Social Dilemma, The Space Program, Argent Pictures, and Exposure Labs, Netflix, 2020,

3 Caroline Knorr, “Parents’ Ultimate Guide to YouTube Kids,” Common Sense Media, March 12, 2021,

4 Katie Canales, “40% of kids under 13 already use Instagram and some are experiencing abuse and sexual solicitation, a report finds, as the tech giant considers building an Instagram app for kids,” Insider, May 13, 2021,

5 Bill Chappel, “The Facebook Papers: What you need to know,” NPR, October 25, 2021,

6 Anya Kamenetz, “Facebook’s own data is not as conclusive as you think about teens and mental health,” NPR, October 6, 2021,

7 Andy Wu, “The Facebook Trap,” Harvard Business Review, October 19, 2021,

At COP26, Leaders Dither on Climate

by Matthew Volfson


November 23, 2021

World Climate Conferences examine the preparedness of world politicians and leaders to fight climate change. As the issue of climate change has become more important, more pressure has been brought onto delegates to make an impact at the conference. People around the world wonder whether what is said by their government officials at the conference will really be realized. Will the world’s nations stick to their climate commitments? Will the global community stick together to fight against climate change? These questions are crucial to keep in mind when analyzing an event such as COP26, the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties. In general, a “conference of the parties” is a meeting where delegates from many countries gather to discuss an issue.

COP26 was hosted by the United Kingdom in Glasgow to discuss the issue of world climate and how to prevent further climate change from happening.1 The goal of the event was to make sure that the world’s nations agreed to fight climate change, involving plenty of geopolitical and resource haggling as well as forced concessions amongst countries. Participants in COP26 included delegates and world leaders from over one hundred nations around the world, with the notable exception of China and Russia.2

At COP26, no comprehensive climate agreement was reached, but a few notable pledges were made.3 The United States and the European Union pledged to decrease the usage of methane by 30% by 2030, meaning that the levels of methane in the atmosphere in 2030 would only be 70% of levels in 2020.4 The US and EU also led the way in pledging to reduce hydrocarbon consumption.5 Narendra Modi made a half-hearted pledge to make India carbon neutral by 2070.6 The promises are based on calculations that the governments themselves make, sometimes in an uncertain way. 

Although the countries that made the pledges assumed their position against climate change to be a success, there has been a yawning gap between what delegates say and what their countries actually do. When countries gathered in Paris in 2018 for a similar conference, they pledged to combat climate change, yet the goals they set still have not been reached at the end of 2020. A UN study that covered fewer than half of the countries participating in the Paris climate accord found that “the majority of these countries increased their levels of ambition to reduce emissions,” yet “the level of ambition [that was] communicated… indicates that the change in emissions would be small, less than -1% in 2030 compared to 2010.”7 The required amount by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is -45% by 2030. Again, this study only covered fewer than half of the countries at the conference, so the data for all of the countries could likely be even worse.

To compound the issue of empty promises, nations such as Australia and Saudi Arabia actively fought against strong measures for fighting climate change through lobbying at COP26. These nations fought to protect their interests in profiting from exploiting resources, encouraging the pollution of Earth’s atmosphere.8 Their economies are dependent on fossil fuels and would have to be massively restructured if they were to follow stringent climate promises. India was similar in that regard: although the nation made a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2070, it is not prepared to do so and has lobbied against stringent environmental restrictions in order to protect its coal industry.8,9 Besides the countries themselves, oil companies sent the largest delegation to COP26 to lobby for softer regulations on oil and promote fossil fuels.10

The United States, in particular, does not have bipartisan consensus on fighting climate change. Former President Donald Trump, still very popular in the Republican Party, denied the existence of climate change in 2020.11,12 The US was the lynchpin of many initiatives made in the COP26 conference, as mentioned earlier, and without the US, the conference would be missing the world’s current second largest emitter and greatest cumulative emitter of carbon emissions. But also, President Joe Biden may have made many promises the US is not ready to follow through with at COP26. 

COP26 was an important event where leaders made promises to combat climate change. Even so, those promises seem to be a token in the face of growing global opposition against fighting climate change and dithering by the exact same leaders. The world is facing an extremely dangerous crisis. Climate change is ruining lives and homes through fires, increased drought, and hurricanes. Only time will tell whether countries actually recognize the matter at hand and fight the issue like it is: a threat to humankind. COP26 has not changed the tendency for people to ignore climate change—even though it is such a dire emergency.

1 “What Does COP Stand For?” The New York Times, November 13, 2021,

2 Sam Meredith, “Who’s Going to the COP26 Climate Summit? Meet the Key Players at the UN Talks,” CNBC, October 31, 2021,

3 Ewelina Czapla, “The Results of COP26,” American Action Forum, November 17, 2021,

4 “COP26: US and EU Announce Global Pledge to Slash Methane,” BBC, November 2, 2021,

5 Laurie Goering and Sebastian Rodriguez, “Analysis: Push to End Oil and Gas Expansion Takes Off at COP26 but Harder on the Ground,” Reuters, November 4, 2021,

6 Gayathri Vaidyanathan, “Scientists Cheer India’s Ambitious Carbon-Zero Climate Pledge,” Nature News, November 5, 2021,

7 “‘Climate Commitments Not On Track to Meet Paris Agreement Goals’ as NDC Synthesis Report is Published,” UN Climate Change News, February 26, 2021,

8 Justin Rowlatt and Tom Gerken, “COP26: Document Leak Reveals Nations Lobbying to Change Key Climate Report.” BBC, October 21, 2021.

9 Joshua W. Busby, Sarang Shidore, Johannes Urpelainen, and Morgan D. Bazilian, “The Case for US Cooperation with India on a Just Transition Away from Coal,” Brookings, April 20, 2021,,indirectly%20as%20per%20recent%20calculations.

10 Matt McGrath, “COP26: Fossil Fuel Industry Has Largest Delegation at Climate Summit,” BBC, November 8, 2021,

11 Amina Dunn, “Two-Thirds of Republicans Want Trump to Retain Major Political Role; 44% Want Him to Run Again in 2024,” Pew Research Center, October 6, 2021,

12 Alana Wise, “’I Don’t Think Science Knows’: Visiting Fires, Trump Denies Climate Change,” NPR, September 14, 2020,

Entrance Exams for Boston Exam Schools Should Be Reconsidered: Here’s Why

by Sally Jamrog


May 31, 2021

As most BUA students residing in Boston probably know, Boston has three public schools that require an entrance exam: the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, Boston Latin Academy, and Boston Latin School. These schools educate students in grades seven to twelve and accept new students in grades seven and nine. For the past twenty-five years, the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) has been used to admit students to these schools. A student’s result on the ISEE and a student’s grade point average (GPA) have each counted as 50% of their application.1 Last year, however, because of the COVID-19 epidemic, ISEE testing had to be suspended and has been canceled for the 2021-2022 academic year as well. The temporarily altered application process is now based on how well students do on at least one of the following criteria: meeting or exceeding expectations on both the English language arts and math sections of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and earning an average GPA of B or higher in studies of math and the humanities.1

Before 1963, Boston’s exam schools never required an exam, admitting students solely based on grades and a recommendation from an elementary school principal.2 As the number of applicants for the schools increased, an entrance exam, a less subjective way to evaluate applicants, was implemented to streamline the admissions process. For minority students, there was little difference in acceptance rates even after the first entrance exams were established. In 1971, only 1.9% of the student body at the Boston Latin School identified as black, even though 32% of the district’s student population was black.2 The racial demographics in the Boston exam schools still do not reflect those of the Boston student population. For instance, today black and Hispanic students make up almost 75% of Boston’s student-age population but only make up about 40% of the students enrolled in the Boston exam schools and only 20% at Boston Latin School, the most selective.3

Studies in the past twenty-five years have shown that the ISEE is a large contributing factor to these demographics. In a report by WGBH news, the ISEE was found to inaccurately predict the academic performance of most test takers. An investigation done by the Harvard Rappaport Institute in 2016 confirmed that much of the material on the ISEE is not taught by the start of sixth grade in Boston Public Schools (BPS), making it necessary to get external help in preparation for the exam.2 The test then tends to favor students who have had the privilege of attending private and perhaps more academically rigorous elementary schools, where students learn material before others at different schools. On this inequity, BPS superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius says that the ISEE tests academic “standards that aren’t taught on a typical day in a Boston classroom.”4 

It seems impossible to make the ISEE and, indeed, any other form of standardized testing completely equitable because it will always provide some students with more advantages than others and ultimately relegates test takers to the value of their test results. As Amelia Boudreau ‘23 says, “I specifically think that these exams can serve as an inequitable barrier to getting into schools due to issues of individual families’ financial mobility, as well as a fundamentally flawed attempt at quantifying intelligence.” However, while eliminating standardized testing might address these issues, with an annual applicant pool of nearly five thousand students, the Boston exam schools would still need some form of objective streamlining mechanism for admissions. This is in contrast to the admissions processes employed by many private schools, which have the privilege of interacting with applicants via interviews and organized events. As Sebastian Depaz Mesa ‘23 says, “There is a lot more to a student than a number can reflect, but having interviews for so many applicants is not practical.” Schools would “need a way to test mass amounts of students, all from different backgrounds, in a way that is fair and properly represents their academic ability,” says Vincent Brunn ‘23.

As an alternative, another study done by the Harvard Rappaport Institute showed that changing the admissions criteria for Boston’s exam schools to include MCAS test performance instead of an ISEE score would augment black and Hispanic enrollment in the exam schools by up to 50%.5 This admissions approach was suggested by Dr. Cassellius as well. She also noted that MCAS, which costs $45 per student on average and is paid for by the student’s school, would be a cheaper option than the ISEE, which costs $225-$255 per individual testing session and is generally paid for by the student. While these new ideas for admissions processes still rely on standardized testing, the MCAS test, unlike the ISEE, is given annually in the majority of Massachusetts education programs, so a more diverse range of students would have access to adequate preparation resources.

Additionally, the new exam school admissions process, as it has been altered in 2021-2022, offers 20% of seats to students with the highest GPA in the applicant pool. The other 80% are filled using zip codes, giving the seats to the applicants with the highest GPAs in each district.1 Although many people in favor of reviving the entrance exam after the pandemic took issue with including zip codes in the selection process, fearing that it would introduce an element of randomness and potentially “degrade [the schools’] academic standards,” BPS has asserted that it is a misconception to think that considering students’ zip codes would somehow devalue the process of admission.6 Since students would still be ranked by GPA, this process should not diminish the schools’ rigor and academic performance.

So on the one hand, entirely abolishing the testing program and establishing a different system would probably be the best way to ensure more equal opportunities for students overall. As Eli Scott-Joseph ‘24 says, “I don’t really know how [we] would make a better test.” However, given the large number of students who apply to the exam schools each year, there would still need to be a process in place that enables many students to be evaluated, just in a much more equitable manner. One option would be to weigh the exam far less heavily in the admissions process and consider using the more familiar MCAS test, for which many schools already provide resources and support. If not the MCAS, schools could also consider using the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) instead of the ISEE. The SSAT is not only less expensive than the ISEE, though still more expensive than MCAS — $150 per individual testing session compared to the $225-$255 individual ISEE testing sessions — but also perhaps more in line with school curricula. Regardless, finding a way to evaluate Boston exam school applicants in an efficient but equitable manner should be a priority when thinking about how to most effectively diversify the Boston exam schools. And, although a somewhat radical idea, we should definitely consider abolishing or putting much less emphasis on standardized testing.


2 Carrie Jung, “Not Always An Exam School: The History Of Admissions At Boston’s Elite High Schools,” WBUR, March 5, 2020,

3 Joshua Goodman and Melanie Rucinski, “Increasing Diversity in Boston’s Exam Schools,” Harvard Kennedy School, October 2018,

4 Eliza Dewey, “Cassellius Wants New State Funding For Boston To ‘Go To Kids,’” WGBH, November 22, 2019,

5 Molly Boigon, “Boston Schools Ignored Anti-Bias Bid Specs in Awarding Testing Contracts,” WGBH. November 2, 2018,

6 Melissa Bailey, “A Golden Ticket: Efforts to Diversify Boston’s Elite High Schools Spur Hope and Outrage,” NBC News, March 17, 2021,

Coronavirus Vaccinations Should Be Mandatory

by Anna Augart-Welwood


May 31, 2021

After a year of social distancing, mask wearing, and quarantining, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine brings a new hope for the end of the pandemic. As of now, 284 million doses have been administered, and 45% of people in the United States have been fully vaccinated. This number will continue to increase, but it will never reach 100% unless vaccinations are made mandatory.

It is imperative that people get vaccinated as soon as possible. In Massachusetts, businesses and restaurants opened to full capacity on May 29, which could cause a spike in cases. And new coronavirus variants are beginning to spread, which are more fatal, contagious, and possibly vaccine-resistant because the mutations strengthen the virus’ so-called “spike protein.” If this spike protein continues to evolve, people who have been vaccinated or who have previously contracted the virus may be re-infected. Antibodies don’t bind to certain spike proteins as easily and take longer to fight off the virus. Similarly, the virus could become more contagious because the spike proteins of certain mutations fit better into cell receptors, proteins on the surface of a cell, allowing the virus to enter the cell more easily. For example, the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant was first discovered in the United Kingdom and is thought to be up to 70% more contagious than the original strain. The five notable variants in the United States are B.1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1, B.1.427, and B.1.429. The B.1.1.7 mutation was detected in the United States in December 2020, the B.1.351 and P.1 mutations in January 2021, and the B.1.427 and B.1.429 mutations in February 2021. According to the CDC, these five variants spread more quickly and easily than others. This could put a strain on healthcare resources and lead to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. Scientists believe that these mutations could cause more severe symptoms and could even be deadlier than the strain that has dominated in the US.

However, we could prevent the virus from mutating further and becoming more dangerous by mandating the vaccine. Workplaces and schools could require that all staff members and students get the COVID-19 vaccine, medical conditions permitting. But according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, about one quarter of Americans do not want the vaccine. From that quarter, if the vaccine were required for school or work, 9% would get vaccinated, 12% said they would still probably not take the vaccine, and 15% were completely opposed to vaccination, even knowing it is completely safe. To put this into perspective, 70-90% of a population need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Assuming we reach herd immunity, we must maintain it, possibly through additional booster vaccines, because immunity can be lost over time. But even if the coronavirus vaccine were mandatory, it would be difficult to enforce, especially considering the 15% who are against it. Some possible solutions include requiring vaccination for people who cross state borders as well as mandatory vaccination in schools and workplaces. Educational campaigns and efforts to depoliticize the vaccine may help, but there will still be extremists who disregard scientific evidence. However, when education and mandates are combined, far more people will likely get vaccinated. For example, during the polio epidemic in the 1950s, campaigns and marketing strategies were used to portray the disease as a common enemy, not as a matter of politics, causing more people to get vaccinated against it. Additionally, the measles vaccine was required by schools in the 1970s, and after the mandate, over 90% of children got the vaccine. While these situations only required one solution, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is so much stigma and misinformation about the vaccine that not only education but also a mandate are necessary to achieve herd immunity.

It is unfortunate that we live in a society where, because so many people are skeptical of vaccines, we have to consider a mandate. But education and mandates could counter this skepticism. One of the core values of the United States is liberty and justice for all. While some may argue that a vaccine mandate infringes on their freedom, in fact, getting a vaccine is a matter of public health and safety. We must work together and make a community effort to beat a common enemy instead of politicizing it. If anything, getting vaccinated gives people more freedom to travel and live their lives again.

“About Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 20, 2021.

Brink, Susan. “Can’t Help Falling In Love With A Vaccine: How Polio Campaign Beat Vaccine Hesitancy.” NPR, May 3, 2021.

Drillinger, Meagan. “We Eradicated Polio from the U.S. with Vaccines. Can We Do the Same with COVID-19?” Healthline, May 3, 2021.

“More than 1.64 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker.” Bloomberg, May 23, 2021.

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. “A new survey finds that about a quarter of Americans don’t want to get vaccinated.” The New York Times, December 15, 2020.

Fast Fashion Is Harming the Environment

by Claire Hsu


May 31, 2021

The fashion industry plays a part in all of our lives. It is constantly evolving, and the more it grows, the more it ravages our environment, making the industry the second largest polluter in the world.1 Even though the industry is producing millions of tons of waste and polluting our air, water, and earth, so-called “fast fashion” companies continue their wasteful but successful methods, and consumers, pressured by social standards and these companies, can’t change their habits of buying and throwing out an abundance of clothes. 

Fast fashion is one of the most disastrous problems of the fashion industry. Fast fashion is the mass and rapid production of inexpensive clothing, replicating various trends based on runways and high-end designs. Trends today change very quickly because of the growing culture and media we are exposed to, so the fast fashion industry is releasing more and more clothing in a shorter span of time, each brand averaging fifty-two micro-seasons a year; previously, two seasons were the usual.1 The rapid release of these multitudes of collections makes consumers feel like their clothing is out of date, and they continue purchasing from fast fashion companies to keep up. Because of this cycle, the fashion industry produces a whopping eighty billion garments a year, around 400% more clothes than twenty years ago. Quickly changing trends are only part of the problem — the quality of these garments has declined so much that an average of thirty-five kilograms of textiles per person are thrown out every year in the United States.1 This colossal amount of textile waste is very damaging to our environment, especially since 72% of our clothing is made of synthetic fibers, such as polyester, rayon, and nylon.2

Synthetic fibers are a common man-made clothing material, and although they are cheap to make, they are very hard to dispose of. These fabrics produce poisonous chemicals when burnt, can leach these chemicals into the environment, and are non-biodegradable. Instead of biodegrading, the fabrics break down into small microplastics, known as microfibers. One load of laundry can release 700,000 microfibers.2 These fibers then travel everywhere; they sink to the bottom of the seafloor and can travel through soil and air to all parts of our Earth, composing up to 35% of primary microplastics, microplastics that are less than five millimeters in size upon entering the environment, in the marine environment.2 They are very harmful to the environment because they can harm fish and other marine organisms that accidentally consume them and can even injure humans and animals that consume these marine organisms, in turn.

Even though only fast fashion companies have the power to truly solve this problem, there are still some things that we, as consumers, can do to help our environment. Perhaps the best thing we could do for our environment is to buy less clothing, since buying any piece of clothing, no matter how green it claims to be, will create a negative environmental impact. Buying second-hand clothes or donating old clothes are other good alternatives. We can also reduce our environmental impact by buying better quality clothing, which will likely last longer, reducing the amount of waste created. And if we all refrain from buying poor quality fast fashion clothing, it will push fast fashion brands to produce better quality clothing.

1 M. Charpail, “What’s wrong with the fashion industry?” Sustain Your Style, 2017,

2 Catie Tobin, “How Plastic Pollution Is Being Woven into Fast Fashion Culture,” New Security Beat, July 30, 2020,

The Benefits of Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

by Matthew Volfson


April 25, 2021

If we compare the United States’ infrastructure to Switzerland’s, we see that America has difficulty even keeping their infrastructure standing, let alone improving their services. The United States has a creaky Amtrak mostly built in the 1970s. Public transportation systems in San Francisco, New York, and Boston and bus systems throughout the U.S. are more fit for the age of the fax machine and video cassette recorders than for the modern day. In contrast, Swiss transport systems and many other European systems belong in the current day and are innovative, easy to access, speedy, and on time. It is a consensus, among both Democrats and Republicans, that the United States has an infrastructure problem. Even so, for many years, we have heard only rhetoric from Washington. 

President Joe Biden has finally managed to forge legislation to deal with America’s infrastructure that has a decent chance of passing Congress. His legislation is necessary for improving our economy and the ways in which we get from place to place. It promises better public transportation and roads for neighborhoods of color, a development which would ameliorate a long-time problem caused by the income inequality between minority and white neighborhoods. Communities where people of color are predominant in Boston, such as Hyde Park, are less well-off than areas where fewer people of color live, such as Newton. People in Hyde Park tend to rely more on public transport than people in Newton because many can’t afford a car, and public transport is one of the only ways to get around without a car. 

Biden’s infrastructure plan is a complex batch of items that attempts to address America’s infrastructure and its inequalities. Biden hopes to improve roads, invest in transportation, and especially encourage the use of environmental energy. This makes sense: the Texas power grid crisis in February of this year attests to the fact that fixing the U.S. energy grid should remain a top priority for any presidential administration. The blackout in Texas and multiple blackouts in New York in 2003 and 2019 show that even the largest cities in America sorely need improvements in energy. And in New England and the Massachusetts area specifically, there was a more recent blackout in the Boston area in 2021 where it took a few days to get back to power. I, unfortunately, was a part of the blackout, and my house lacked power for days. To prevent such blackouts from happening again, Biden’s administration will invest in making infrastructure much more resilient to storms. 

Biden has acknowledged that storms and other natural disasters will become more frequent as over time, more and more of the effects of climate change are felt throughout America. He has not only added provisions in his legislation that would make current electrical grids and systems more resilient to climate change but has also pledged to invest in environmental energy. He would do so by encouraging Americans to buy electric cars and use more environmentally friendly energy, such as solar energy, hydropower, wind energy, or nuclear energy, over fossil fuels. 

Investing in energy for the future is a must for a country that seeks to lead the globe in combating climate change. Biden is going in the right direction. He wants to make sure that the United States can come up to par with manufacturing giants such as the new challenger on the block, China. He wants the U.S. to further push its weight around abroad and make sure the world holds a concrete goal of eliminating climate change. He would do that by investing more in clean energies, a point made again and again in his March 2021 White House briefing on his infrastructure plan. 

Yet inflation may be a problem for Biden’s two-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. As more money, on a magnitude of trillions, is spent, the money becomes less valuable because there is an extended surplus of the cash. Some economists believe that the plan could cause inflation because of the increased amount of money flushed out and printed out from Washington. The possibility of inflation, combined with increased interest rates on loans, another result of more money on the market, would drag down the American economy. 

Even so, BUA students have confidence in Biden’s plan. Biden’s infrastructure plan is relevant to BUA because the MBTA serves a substantial number of BUA students. Anne Jackson ‘22 believes the U.S. “needs to invest a lot more in American infrastructure, since a lot of it is aging. A lot of infrastructure spending is not going into American pockets; [therefore it] won’t drastically devalue American spending.” She acknowledges Biden’s efforts to “invest in renewable energy” and praises them as beneficial for the United States, saying it would help “reduce global warming.” To Anne’s comments, I would add that investing in renewable energy would boost America’s place on the global clean energy stage. With its global reputation tarnished by former President Trump, the U.S. most certainly needs to tackle climate change better, and Biden’s infrastructure plan seems like the best opportunity to do so. Although Biden’s proposal comes with its share of problems, it nevertheless is doing something, which is better than doing nothing.

Cook, Lauren. “A brief history of blackouts in New York City.” AMNY, July 15, 2019.

“FACT SHEET: The American Jobs Plan.” The White House, March 31, 2021.

Gavin, Christopher. “Power outages, a scaffolding collapse, and downed trees mark wild windstorm.”, March 2, 2021.

Kapur, Sahil and Tsirkin, Julie. “GOP unites against Biden’s $2 trillion jobs plan. It’s the counteroffer they can’t agree on.” NBC, April 16, 2021.

Pramuk, Jakob. “President Biden unveils his $2 trillion infrastructure plan — here are the details.” CNBC, March 31, 2021.

A Wealth Tax Would Benefit America

by Anna Augart-Welwood


March 29, 2021

Since human brains have not evolved to understand large numbers, it is easy to underestimate how large one billion actually is, and, therefore, it is difficult to comprehend the size of the wealth gap in America. One million seconds is eleven days, while one billion seconds is thirty-two years. One billion dollars is such an incomprehensible amount of money that it would be difficult to actually spend, and there is no reason why anyone should hoard more wealth than they could spend in their lifetime while other people are homeless, starving, and dying of curable diseases. For this reason, Congress should impose a wealth tax on the rich.

The wealth distribution in the United States is drastically unequal, and many politicians are in favor of a wealth tax to help fix this inequality. According to the Federal Reserve, the top one percent of Americans collectively own approximately one third of the U.S. household wealth. The bottom fifty percent of people in America make up only 1.9% of the country’s wealth. Racial wealth gaps are particularly astounding. As of 2016, the median white family owned almost five times the wealth of the median Hispanic family and over six times the wealth of the median black family. Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with other Democrats, recently proposed the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act. It would place a two percent annual tax on households and trusts between fifty million and one billion dollars, in addition to a one percent annual surtax on households and trusts over one billion. The bill would help to narrow the racial wealth gap and wealth gap in general.

A poll from the New York Times in July of 2019 found that two thirds of all Americans, including 55% of Republicans, are in favor of a two percent wealth tax on everyone worth over fifty million dollars. The opinions among the people who would be paying the tax are more split. But imposing a wealth tax is not as simple as it sounds. It is difficult to determine exactly how much wealth there is in the country. Additionally, calculating revenue involves guessing how much the rich will evade the tax. Another difficult task for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is calculating how much people’s assets are worth. As John Koskinen, a former commissioner of the IRS, said, “The thing to remember is that really wealthy people don’t hold all their assets in easy-to-value areas like stocks and bonds. A lot of them have artwork that’s worth a lot of money. A lot of them have investments in privately held corporations or in investment vehicles that do not give regular valuations.” Enforcing a wealth tax would require the U.S. government to employ substantially more people in the IRS and determine how to calculate these valuations, seeing as bank account balances and the values of stocks and artwork fluctuate regularly.

Despite the fact that a wealth tax would be difficult to implement, it is necessary to close the wealth gap in America. The world’s top twenty-six billionaires own as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people. Moreover, while millions of people were left without a steady source of income during the pandemic, billionaires got 565 billion dollars richer, making forty-two million a week on average. Some people argue that billionaires have worked hard for their money and should be allowed to keep it. However, the Billionaire Census found that 30.9% of billionaires inherited some of their wealth and that 13.3% inherited all of their wealth. Additionally, wealth inequality is self-reinforcing in the sense that people make money off their own wealth, such as through investments, giving them more wealth. And even though 55.8% of billionaires are self-made, they have more money than they could ever possibly spend. It is unfair that billionaires are hoarding money when others cannot pay for basic necessities such as food, healthcare, housing, and education. No one should be allowed to accumulate that much wealth in the first place, which is why a wealth tax would be beneficial to America. Aster Gamarnik ‘23 is in favor of a wealth tax; they say, “People shouldn’t die from something that could have been prevented if they had more money… The difference between the top and the bottom classes is so vast that poor people just can’t move up. It’s a deadly cycle of poor education, housing, and nutrition.” They believe that many aspects of our society are unfair, but since the wealth gap can certainly be narrowed, it definitely should.

While it would not be easy, implementing the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act would be greatly beneficial to the United States. Especially during the pandemic, many people, businesses, and organizations are struggling from a lack of money. On the other hand, billionaires have profited greatly during the past year. Imagine having so much money that you could buy everything you ever wanted and still have plenty to spare. Why would you keep it to yourself when you could use it to help millions of people?

Clifford, Catherine. “The majority of billionaires in the world are self-made.” CNBC, May 10, 2019.

Ewall-Wice, Sarah. “Elizabeth Warren unveils proposal for wealth tax on “ultra-millionaires” as richest Americans see gains during pandemic.” CBS News, March 2, 2021.

Kurtzleben, Danielle. “How would a wealth tax work?” NPR, December 5, 2019.

Proctoring Software Should Be Used in Remote Exams

by Aditi Deokar


March 29, 2021

This year, even with some in-person classes, most exams at BUA and BU have been held remotely to accommodate remote students. I believe that the use of proctoring software such as ExamSoft and Proctorio is a useful way to deter cheating during remote exams. 

I will start by sharing how a particular BU professor handled remote exams in one of my classes. Before COVID-19, this professor had used ExamSoft during in-person exams, which he had students take on computers, to speed up grading of multiple-choice exams, increase security by locking down students’ computers, and allow him to better understand the quality of his exam questions with metrics such as point biserial, which, in the context of exams, is used to correlate a student’s answer to a specific question to the student’s exam score as a whole. His exams were open-book and open-note. 

During the pandemic, he kept much of this the same but adjusted to students learning remotely. He held exams during a synchronous time slot on ExamSoft and kept them open-book and open-note. However, he ran into some difficulties. For instance, many students only had e-books, so he could not have ExamSoft lock down students’ computers. This allowed students not only to access their e-books, which was allowed, but also to use the Internet, which was not. To deter students from cheating by using the Internet, he had teaching fellows proctor us via Zoom to make sure we were not navigating to other tabs, and we were required to use a computer that showed our whole workspace. Unfortunately, this method ended up being too limited.

Shortly before our third exam, the professor discovered instances of cheating. Some of the questions on previous exams had been posted on the Internet years ago, so a few students were having another person out of view Google each question and tell them the answers while they were taking the exam. The cheating forced the professor to rewrite in the span of a day most of the questions for the third exam, for which we had to keep our microphones unmuted. This was very distracting to some students, especially in another section where a student’s malfunctioning fire alarm went off every few minutes. Had my professor used a proctoring software such as ExamSoft’s ExamMonitor, such incidents would have been flagged by an AI software for review already in the first exam so that he could quickly identify the cheaters and take appropriate action.1 We would not have had the difficulties of keeping microphones unmuted, and he would not have had to rewrite the exam. Personally, I would find using a proctoring software not any more stress-inducing than live proctoring, and I would have been comfortable knowing that cheaters would be effectively detected.

Although the exam was open-book and proctored live, cheating was still a problem in that class. We might, therefore, wonder what is the best course of action for BUA classes. Many BUA classes currently hold open-book or open-note Blackboard exams, often unproctored to allow flexibility in test-taking time, with the hope that a stringent time limit would be enough of a deterrent to cheating. But this strategy still allows students to use the Internet and communicate with others even if they are not supposed to do so, permitting cheating to occur without a means of detecting it. I certainly believe that BUA students are much more academically honest than the cheaters in that BU class. However, it is important to have a means of detecting cheating during exams because if there isn’t one, students can be tempted to cheat simply because they believe everyone else will. Such a means can be found in ExamMonitor or the similar software Proctorio. ExamMonitor is a part of the easy-to-use ExamSoft application, while Proctorio is a browser extension that can be used with any method of test-taking, including Blackboard, so teachers would not need to remake their exams in another application.1,2 

Some students might feel that proctoring softwares’ audio and video recording and AI analysis software are a violation of privacy. However, if they were taking the exam in-person, their teachers would be watching them and listening to them the entire time, and if they were taking it via Zoom and their teacher chose to record the meeting, the teacher would also have a recording of their actions the entire time, the same as ExamMonitor or Proctorio does. The AI only speeds up the process by identifying clips that it thinks might be suspicious for teachers to then decide themselves whether to investigate.1 ExamMonitor and Proctorio make the best effort to maintain students’ privacy, and while of course there is some chance that recordings could be leaked, we take that same chance by recording Zoom meetings all the time.3,4 Thus, proctoring softwares such as ExamSoft and Proctorio are viable alternatives to in-person proctoring that can help deter cheating while preserving the flexibility of asynchronous remote exams at BUA.

1 ExamSoft Worldwide LLC. 2021, “Strengthen Exam Integrity with Digital Monitoring,” 2021,

2 Proctorio Inc. 2020, “Proctorio Frequently Asked Questions,” 2020,

3 ExamSoft Worldwide LLC. 2021, “ExamSoft: Privacy Policy,” 2021,

4 Proctorio Inc. 2020, “Proctorio: Security Is No Accident,” 2020,