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

by Sally Jamrog

Opinion

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.


1 BPS, “English – EXAM SCHOOL FINAL SLIDES,”
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1rGTwkRwrc98PDDTd5xoJkCjdLBZQ2KOf/view.

2 Carrie Jung, “Not Always An Exam School: The History Of Admissions At Boston’s Elite High Schools,” WBUR, March 5, 2020,
https://www.wbur.org/edify/2020/03/05/boston-exam-school-admissions-history.

3 Joshua Goodman and Melanie Rucinski, “Increasing Diversity in Boston’s Exam Schools,” Harvard Kennedy School, October 2018,
https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/joshuagoodman/files/rappaport_brief.pdf.

4 Eliza Dewey, “Cassellius Wants New State Funding For Boston To ‘Go To Kids,’” WGBH, November 22, 2019,
https://www.wgbh.org/news/education/2019/11/22/cassellius-wants-new-state-funding-for-boston-to-go-to-kids.

5 Molly Boigon, “Boston Schools Ignored Anti-Bias Bid Specs in Awarding Testing Contracts,” WGBH. November 2, 2018,
https://www.wgbh.org/news/education/2018/11/02/boston-schools-ignored-bid-specs-in-awarding-testing-contracts.

6 Melissa Bailey, “A Golden Ticket: Efforts to Diversify Boston’s Elite High Schools Spur Hope and Outrage,” NBC News, March 17, 2021,
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/education/golden-ticket-efforts-diversify-boston-s-elite-high-schools-spur-n1261199.

Coronavirus Vaccinations Should Be Mandatory

by Anna Augart-Welwood

Opinion

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.
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Ftransmission%2Fvariant.html.

Brink, Susan. “Can’t Help Falling In Love With A Vaccine: How Polio Campaign Beat Vaccine Hesitancy.” NPR, May 3, 2021.
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/03/988756973/cant-help-falling-in-love-with-a-vaccine-how-polio-campaign-beat-vaccine-hesitan.

Drillinger, Meagan. “We Eradicated Polio from the U.S. with Vaccines. Can We Do the Same with COVID-19?” Healthline, May 3, 2021.
https://www.healthline.com/health-news/we-eradicated-polio-from-the-u-s-with-vaccines-can-we-do-the-same-with-covid-19#What-can-we-learn-from-past-vaccination-campaigns.

“More than 1.64 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker.” Bloomberg, May 23, 2021.
https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/.

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.
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/15/us/a-new-survey-finds-that-about-a-quarter-of-americans-dont-want-to-get-vaccinated.html.

Fast Fashion Is Harming the Environment

by Claire Hsu

Opinion

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,
https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry#anchor-fast-fashion.

2 Catie Tobin, “How Plastic Pollution Is Being Woven into Fast Fashion Culture,” New Security Beat, July 30, 2020,
http://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2020/07/plastic-pollution-woven-fast-fashion-culture-2/.

The Benefits of Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

by Matthew Volfson

Opinion

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.
https://www.amny.com/news/blackouts-nyc-1-33881190/.

“FACT SHEET: The American Jobs Plan.” The White House, March 31, 2021.
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/31/fact-sheet-the-american-jobs-plan/.

Gavin, Christopher. “Power outages, a scaffolding collapse, and downed trees mark wild windstorm.” Boston.com, March 2, 2021.
https://www.boston.com/news/weather/2021/03/02/massachusetts-windstorm-march-1-2021-damages.

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.
https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/republicans-struggle-craft-counteroffer-biden-s-2-trillion-jobs-plan-n1264228.

Pramuk, Jakob. “President Biden unveils his $2 trillion infrastructure plan — here are the details.” CNBC, March 31, 2021.
https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/31/biden-infrastructure-plan-includes-corporate-tax-hike-transportation-spending.html.

A Wealth Tax Would Benefit America

by Anna Augart-Welwood

Opinion

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.
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/10/wealthx-billionaire-census-majority-of-worlds-billionaires-self-made.html.

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.
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sen-elizabeth-warren-introduces-ultra-millionaire-tax-act/.

Kurtzleben, Danielle. “How would a wealth tax work?” NPR, December 5, 2019.
https://www.npr.org/2019/12/05/782135614/how-would-a-wealth-tax-work.

Proctoring Software Should Be Used in Remote Exams

by Aditi Deokar

Opinion

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,
https://examsoft.com/solutions/exam-monitor.

2 Proctorio Inc. 2020, “Proctorio Frequently Asked Questions,” 2020,
https://proctorio.com/frequently-asked-questions.

3 ExamSoft Worldwide LLC. 2021, “ExamSoft: Privacy Policy,” 2021,
https://examsoft.com/privacy-policy.

4 Proctorio Inc. 2020, “Proctorio: Security Is No Accident,” 2020,
https://proctorio.com/about/data-security.

Spring Semester Events Should Be Redesigned, Not Cancelled

by Aparna Deokar

Opinion

February 22, 2021

Last March, schools and businesses all over the world shut down, cancelling many events and gatherings. Almost a year later, BUA and much of the world find ourselves in the same dilemma concerning events — school is open, but events are still socially distanced or remote. I believe that preventing the spread of COVID-19 is of the utmost importance and that therefore, having no gatherings is better than being exposed to the coronavirus. But, where we are safely able to hold events, I think that events should be redesigned rather than canceled.

Though COVID-19 safety comes first, BUA events are important too. Especially this year, underclassmen and upperclassmen don’t get many chances to interact except for clubs, and events help to build a sense of community. Mia Shapoval ’22 describes BUA’s Spring Concert as a “reward” for the hard work throughout the year — it is disappointing that there may not be a concert this year, given the way things are going. And she recalls meeting many upperclassmen at Field Day as a freshman and calls it a “bonding experience.” Where possible, I believe that outdoor events such as Field Day should be redesigned with restrictions, such as social distancing and wearing masks. For these events, not too much would need to be changed to adapt to coronavirus restrictions, since the events are already outdoors and relatively distant. It’s especially important to hold these events for seniors, who have already missed out on last year’s spring events. Elizabeth Brown ‘24 comments, “I think for smaller events, it’s probably possible; Fall Fest happened in a really fun way and the Valentine’s Day sales were still able to happen.” I agree with this statement; for in-person students, these small gatherings were still able to serve their purposes of community building.

Remote BUA students would not be able to participate in these in-person events, but ideally, enough remote events would be provided, such as Zoom Olympics, which was an alternative for Field Day last year. Even for in-person students, few events could plausibly be held without Zoom, so the other option, which I strongly support, being a fully remote student myself, is to hold more remote gatherings. Many students grumble about boring gatherings over Zoom, but we’re gaining more experience with Zoom, and events such as Trivia Night have been a huge success. However, even with restrictions, I believe that some events, such as Prom, might have to be canceled. Prom is regarded as a symbolic, memorable event for juniors and seniors, so it is unfortunate that this year’s senior class might have to miss out on Prom entirely. But dances are hard to recreate in a socially distanced way or remotely, since online Zoom activities just aren’t the same and an in-person Prom would put many of BUA’s students at risk. Elizabeth remarks, “I don’t think there would be any way that [the Valentine’s Day Cabaret] could have been redesigned to be a functional event, since it couldn’t happen over Zoom, and it would be really hard to do a dance in person.” Excluding dances, many events could potentially be redesigned using Zoom, and we at BUA should make an effort to redesign them.

America’s Political Divide Can Be Healed

by Anna Augart-Welwood

Opinion

January 27, 2021

There is no doubt that the United States is a divided country, and with each day, the divide grows larger. Political polarization is a prominent issue in America, and recent events such as the storming of the Capitol building on January 6 induce a feeling that the country is beyond repair. But President Joe Biden has provided many Americans with a new hope that America can be healed.

The political divide in America began to widen during the 1990s. In 1994, the average Republican was more conservative than 70% of Democrats; by 2014, this number increased to 94%. The average Democrat went from more liberal than 64% of Republicans to more liberal than 92% of Republicans in the same time frame. Extreme partisans have false perceptions of members of the other party. According to a study by the More in Common Foundation, Republicans believe that only half of Democrats are proud to be American, and Democrats believe that only half of Republicans recognize that racism still exists in America. In actuality, 80% of Republicans acknowledge the existence of racism in America, and 80% of Democrats say they are proud to be American. According to a study from 2019, 42% of voters of both parties view the other as “downright evil.” The same study discovered that approximately one in five Americans believe that their political opponents “lack the traits to be considered fully human — they behave like animals.” Perhaps the most disturbing discovery of this study is that 20% of Democrats and 16% of Republicans think occasionally that the country would be better off if large numbers of the other party died. From these findings, there is no question that political polarization is tearing the country in half.

There are several explanations for the expanding divide in political views. A study by Carlee Beth Hawkins and Brian Nosek found that labeling policies as Democratic or Republican can influence support from the members of each party. Social media also plays a prominent role in political polarization. Social media algorithms are designed to show users content similar to content that they have previously “liked.” For example, if someone interacts with Democratic content on social media, they will be shown more Democratic content. This prevents social media users from seeing the perspective of the opposite party, increasing polarization. Additionally, news outlets have become increasingly partisan, and most people get information from outlets with the same views as themselves. And the political divide has widened during Donald Trump’s presidency because of his insensitivity towards Democratic customs. Trump consistently demonizes the Democratic Party, driving his supporters to view the Democrats as evil. Agreeing with this statement, Aster Gamarnik ‘23 says that “people no longer think about what’s best for the country, but [rather] blatantly accuse the other party, fill their ego on bigotry, and follow conspiracies that are fueled by this rage.” Aster believes that people are losing hope in America because “Americans no longer understand what this country stands for.” 

While political polarization may seem to be past the point of no return, there is still hope. A study by the More in Common Foundation discovered that over three-fourths of Americans support both stricter gun laws and citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. Approximately the same amount of Americans agree that both parties can still come together despite their differences. Another glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel is Joe Biden’s presidency. Unlike Donald Trump, who has divided the country, Biden promotes a future of unity and bipartisanship. In his victory speech on November 7, he said, “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States…I ran as a proud Democrat. I will now be an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as [for] those who did.” Showing compassion for Trump’s upset supporters, he said, “Let’s give each other a chance.” Biden went on to ask that the “grim era of demonization in America” end now. In his inauguration speech on January 20, President Biden stated his belief that unity can lead the country to greatness. He said, “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new… unity is the path forward.” In the final sentences of his speech, the newly inaugurated president left listeners with a feeling of optimism, saying, “And together we shall write an American story of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness.”

With this new hope in mind, we must take action to heal America’s political divide. A possible solution would be to establish an organization or service that allows people to have respectful and educational conversations with others who have different political views. This would allow partisans to see things from the perspective of the other party and possibly adopt less extreme views. More citizens’ assemblies could be held in which different groups discuss political and social issues, highlighting common ground that can be acted upon. Another possible solution would be to vote for policies, not parties. As previously mentioned, voters are more likely to support a policy put forth by their own party. But if policies were independent from parties, voters would be encouraged to support the policies that they believe in, which may not exactly agree with the ones that their party puts forth. Finally, research shows that people who have extreme views about certain political policies often don’t fully understand them. When asked to give an in-depth explanation of certain policies, extremists realized how little they understood of them and adopted less extreme views. Fully educating voters on policies can also help diminish the polarization.

There is no doubt that political polarization in America is worse than ever before. Some might even say that we are past the point of no return. Yet we don’t have any other choice but to try to fix this destructive issue; our democracy would be shattered otherwise. Keep in mind that there is still hope. After all, it’s not called the United States for nothing.


Avlon, John. “Polarization is poisoning America. Here’s an antidote.” CNN, November 1, 2019.
https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/30/opinions/fractured-states-of-america-polarization-is-killing-us-avlon/index.html.

Blake, Aaron and Scott, Eugene. “Joe Biden’s inauguration speech transcript, annotated.” The Washington Post, January 20, 2020.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2021/01/20/biden-inauguration-speech/.

De-Wit, Lee, Van Der Linden, Sander, and Brick, Cameron. “What Are the Solutions to Political Polarization?” Greater Good Magazine, July 2, 2019.
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_are_the_solutions_to_political_polarization.

Edsall, Thomas B. “No Hate Left Behind.” The New York Times, March 13, 2019.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/13/opinion/hate-politics.html.

“Extreme Political Attitudes May Stem From an Illusion of Understanding.” Association for Psychological Science, April 29, 2013.
https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/extreme-political-attitudes-may-stem-from-an-illusion-of-understanding.html.

“Transcript of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory speech.” The Associated Press, November 7, 2020.
https://apnews.com/article/election-2020-joe-biden-religion-technology-race-and-ethnicity-2b961c70bc72c2516046bffd378e95de.

Why the Humanities Matter

by Sally Jamrog

Opinion

December 14, 2020
The Odyssey, Plato’s Republic, The Iliad, and The Norton Book of Classical Literature are among the texts read in BUA’s freshman English and history courses. Luke Hargrave for The Scarlet Letter

In a world where the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are increasingly overshadowing the humanities, some wonder whether humanities degrees are worth pursuing anymore. Our society is rapidly improving because of advances in science and technology, and consequently, it can be difficult to realize the importance of studying literature and history. In the United States, colleges have been facing steep declines in humanities majors, a phenomenon historians are labeling the “humanities crisis.” Though only recently getting the attention it deserves, the humanities crisis has been ongoing for fifty years: it began in the 1970s, when the dropping of enrollments in humanities curricula began to become noticeable.1

With college tuition prices rising annually, students today are often saddled with massive debt upon graduating and therefore face increased pressure to pursue a course of study that will ensure a lucrative job — this has become synonymous with pursuing a degree in STEM. The number of history majors has dropped 33% since 2011, while English, religion, and language majors have been in steady decline since the financial crisis in 2008.2 Students worry that a job procured from a humanities degree would not have a salary high enough to make a living and pay off college debt. A STEM degree seems to hold a more secure promise of a high-paying job. These beliefs could result from a misconception that the only career prospects for humanities students lie in academia. Teachers truly shape the future of our society by providing education for generations of students, but they are paid relatively little in comparison to other professions that require a college degree. Yet we see that some of the most financially successful people today do come from a humanities background: a survey done in 2012 found that of the 652 American CEOs and heads of product engineering who participated, almost 60% held degrees in the humanities.3 And there is not a lack of jobs that rely on skills cultivated by studying the humanities either. The critical and logical thinking developed by a humanities education has a multitude of applications, from partaking in activities in daily life to explaining data from a lab. The World Economic Forum states that some of the most sought-after skills in the career market are active listening, speaking, critical thinking, and reading comprehension, all skills that are developed through our studying the humanities.4

Surely, STEM is important to the development of the world around us. But humanities carry an equal, not lesser importance, simply because many of the challenges that humans face are multifaceted. “The big problems we face as a species and as a country, all of which are man-made, require interdisciplinary solutions,” says classics and history teacher Dr. Alonge. “Thanks to science we now have at least three COVID-19 vaccines, but understanding our catastrophically poor national response to the pandemic is a humanities question.” 

As apparent from the word, the term “humanities” describes the study of human beings and their  culture. It derives from how we think about human nature and self-expression.5 Without the humanities, we as humans would forget who we are. “It’s really the original question, or litany of questions: who am I? What makes me who I am? And then, by extension, who are you? What makes you who you are?” says English teacher Dr. Formichelli. The humanities are essential to understanding ourselves as a species and figuring out who we are as individuals. By studying the humanities, we create opportunities to empathize with each other; we find out what makes others who they are and how we can relate to them. “It is in humanities courses that students get a chance to explore the fundamental questions of human existence,” says Mr. Kolovos. “An education without that kind of exploration misses the mark, and our society would be worse off for it.” Without the humanities, we would lose our connection to the past and knowledge of past happenings that have made us who we are today. Just as a scientist would not dispose of knowledge from previous experiments, humans should look back to past advancements in the humanities in order to improve ourselves as a species and as a society.

With the humanities, we can recognize and address familiar patterns in human nature. “I am often reminded of a quote by Mark Twain that goes, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,’” says Amelia Boudreau ‘23. “Studying humanities proves unceasingly that that quote rings true.” Fellow BUA students might recall reading The Divine Comedy in sophomore history, a poem in which Dante Alighieri diagnoses and prescribes solutions to the problematic “rule” of the papacy during his time. Although Alighieri wrote during the early fourteenth century, the problems he grapples with in his text are similar to the problems politicians and citizens are facing today: the same insatiable greed for power and authority that Dante describes as strangling the church in his time can be spotted within modern governments and responses to issues such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is in learning and thinking about past tendencies of human nature that we can fully understand and move forward in solving the problems of our present world.

We currently live in a society where misinformation and propaganda exist in abundance: because the modern world revolves around technology, people are continually bombarded with information by means of social media, advertisement campaigns, and news from around the world. In this whirlwind of facts and figures, we can not always rely on what we see online or what we read in the paper anymore. It becomes harder to discern fact from opinion. Hence, it is essential in this modern world to be able to think independently, to be able to sift through many sources of information and finally form one’s own opinion. Reading and analyzing literature and history teaches us to question — to question information, to take famous works off of pedestals and question their authors. Independent thinking is a mark of individuality; without this capability, we lose what makes us ourselves.

Humans write to spread ideas: to refer to a previous example, Dante wrote The Divine Comedy during his exile to spread awareness among the common populace. Amelia Boudreau ‘23 says, “Writing is one of humanity’s few mediums of untethered expression. It’s critical to study writing and literature, as it can teach us the obvious, how to express ourselves, as well as the less obvious, how to understand the behaviors and nuances of those around us.” We read to become exposed to new perspectives. Writing is then a medium through which we can express our ideas. And it is particularly effective for reaching a broader audience — this is of note, considering the nearly eight billion people inhabiting our world today. Most humanities curricula teach some form of analytical writing; that may comprise analyzing a historical document or a form of literature. It is through this practice of analytical writing that humans can communicate their ideas effectively and share them with a greater community. 

Thus, although some argue that the study of the humanities has limited relevance in modern education, where the push to study STEM is gaining more and more momentum, it is crucial that we do not forget the many ways in which the humanities matter and will continue to benefit humans as individuals and as a species. Alyssa Ahn ‘23 says, “As people, we need to have a fundamental understanding of what it means to be human… so that we can create a better future.” Studying the humanities has never ceased to be important; human beings will always benefit from the knowledge of people who have come before them. In the words of Dr. Alonge, “Empathy, communication, justice, beauty — as long as these things matter, the humanities will matter.”


1 Heidi Tworek, “The Real Reason the Humanities are ‘in Crisis,’” The Atlantic, December 18, 2013,
https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/the-real-reason-the-humanities-are-in-crisis/282441/.

2 Beth McMurtie, “Can you get students interested in the humanities again?” University World News, November 9, 2019,
https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20191109053633715#:~:text=Across%20America%2C%20humanities%20majors%20have,a%2033%25%20drop%20in%20majors.&text=According%20to%20surveys%20by%20the,%2D14%20to%202016%2D17.

3 Lindsay Thomas, “Infographics Friday: Bachelor of Arts Degrees, 1988-2008,” 4Humanities, October 26, 2012,
4humanities.org/infographic.

4 Anna Moro, “The humanities are becoming more important. Here’s why.” World Economic Forum, June 14, 2018,
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/how-a-humanities-degree-will-serve-you-in-a-disruptive-economy.

5 The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, “Humanities,” Britannica, July 20, 1998,
https://www.britannica.com/topic/humanities.

Representation Matters: A Look at Our Humanities Curricula

by Giselle Wu

Opinion

December 14, 2020

We need to integrate books by a more diverse selection of authors into BUA’s English and history curricula. While BUA’s humanities program surely incorporates texts worth reading, introducing us to classical, European, and American literature over the course of three years, most of the books we study are written by white authors. As such, students of color are often unable to see their own identity and culture reflected in our humanities curriculum. The selection of literature at BUA has limited the lens through which students view our society and the world. 

“We can only be diverse as a community if our curriculum reflects our students,” a BUA student says in a response to Student Council’s anonymous Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) survey. The current curriculum does not manage to reflect the BUA community — there is a lack of non-Western literature. Black, Latinx, and Asian authors are largely absent in our humanities program. Yet, according to the DEI survey, more than half of BUA students are students of color. BUA’s curriculum then is not representative of more than half of our students’ identities and thus goes against our aim to diversify our community. Madison Ho ‘24 says, “Although I love the strong emphasis on Western classics, I often feel removed from many of the themes we discuss in class.” And Amelia Boudreau ’23 remarks, “It’s critical that person of color (POC) students see themselves represented in the ideas we appreciate and study at school.” The English and history departments need to consider adding texts with more diverse authors to the literature that we study.

The addition of multicultural literature would furthermore help us to broaden our perspectives and learn more about the world around us. In her 2006 thesis, Maria Boles, a student from Eastern Michigan University, argues that multicultural literature “helps to stimulate an understanding of diversity in the classroom and helps to build an understanding of and respect for people from other cultures” — this is precisely why we need to integrate literature written by a more diverse selection of authors into our curriculum at BUA. Claire Hsu ‘23 says, “I think we should be able to read things by authors with different voices and experiences in order to fully understand our history. For example, I loved that we were able to read a version of The Odyssey that was translated by Emily Wilson because it offered a fresh, new perspective of a woman.”

We cannot rely on a single narrative to accurately represent our history, our present, our future. Isaac Rajagopal ‘23 says, “There’s no excuse for the whole curriculum being taught by white people about books written by white people about white people.” BUA’s curriculum should not be defined by such a limited perspective. 

Our current curriculum does have its benefits. A student who wishes not to be named says that the overall humanities curriculum is good and that there is a fair amount of Black and Latinx history mentioned in the American history curriculum. Nandini Lal ‘23 notes, “I also still don’t think [the curriculum] is bad because the texts that we do read are different enough. Maybe we can just reduce those a bit and add some newer or fresher authors’ books.” The current curriculum, although limited, does offer some different perspectives. But we still need to add more perspectives, ones that can drive us to embrace and respect different cultures. 

And studying these different perspectives is vital to shaping a better future for ourselves. In order to bring our world together, we have to learn to understand, to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes, to respect one another. We then need to read books about the experiences of minorities. By diversifying the books that we read at school, we can broaden our own perspectives. Introducing more diverse texts into the humanities curriculum may not be an easy task, but it’s one that’s worth doing and needs to be done. 


Anderson, Jill. “Hooked on Classics.” Harvard Ed. Magazine, Fall 2019.
https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/19/08/hooked-classics.

Boles, Maria. “The Effects of Multicultural Literature in the Classroom.” Eastern Michigan University, 2006.
https://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1061&context=honors.