Steve’s Scribbles are written by Steve Hanson. Steve’s scribbles are musings, life lessons, insightful work, or venting of fantasy football frustrations by the College & Financial Aid Advisor of San Mateo High School.

Though this question probably won’t have the same quoteability of Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be,” it is a question that many of us will be answering in the months ahead. I was asked that question by a colleague last week in planning for the fall, and they were curious if I would suggest that we host a PSAT or not. In all the talk about the changing testing landscape, changing requirements, and optional/blind policies, I admit that I never really gave much thought to how, if at all, this should change our philosophy around the PSAT.

Prior to the changing testing landscape I had a love hate relationship with the PSAT’s. I loved that it would give students a starting idea of how they might do on the SAT. I hated the lack of flexibility on when the test had to be offered. I loved when students would actually take the score reports provided to try and better their SAT scores. I hated when students would get pressure from parents about trying to get National Merit instead of using it as an opportunity to see where they’re at with the test.

But now as a post-pandemic testing landscape becomes clearer, it’s worth it to think about not just how our philosophies on SAT and ACT testing might change, but if we need to think earlier to PSAT as well. Of course, individual mileage is going to vary greatly. Counselors in states where the SAT is a graduation requirement or still required in their public universities will probably still advocate strongly for the PSAT. And that makes sense. In a place where the SAT is still carrying higher weight, it would make sense to be best prepared for it.

In California our UC’s and CSU’s are test blind next year. UC’s beyond that as well, CSU’s still technically awaiting a decision for beyond fall 2022. But if they do follow the path of UC’s, it really makes us think about whether to have our students take the PSAT or not. And I think it’s a multipart answer.

For starters I’d say yes, the test should be made available to any student who wants to take it. I know students are free to sign up at other high schools that offer it, but several don’t open up their doors to outside students. Even if an individual counselor or counseling department doesn’t see the need for a student to take it in this new landscape, and I can’t say I’d disagree with that, I do believe that if a student wants it the option should be there. Our job is to inform the student but they ultimately have to make their choice. And if they do choose to take the test, I think we should make it feasible for them to do so. Also, you probably will field some upset calls from parents if you just don’t provide any option whatsoever.

How though would I want to administer it? Tradition for our district would see every sophomore and junior take the test. I would probably say requiring the test is really not necessary anymore, and I would advocate for a testing opportunity offered with individual student choice of whether to take it or not. Which then brings up the question of what makes more sense, Wednesday testing knowing some students will miss class, or Saturday to avoid the missing of instructional time.

I’d say which is more equitable? Some students need to work on Saturdays and couldn’t test, so if you offer it on a weekend, you’ll miss those students if they want to take it. But missing instruction time on a Wednesday isn’t ideal either. In a perfect world I’d say that you offer Wednesday testing for those who want it, while having the other students in the same grade level work on a non-instructional project or activity. Something that will still be beneficial, but not setting our test takers behind on the subjects that they’re missing for the day.

Is this perfect? Probably not, but so far in the thought process it’s the most equitable solution that comes to mind. It still provides an opportunity for those who want it, without missing other important things in life. But, I am definitely open to suggestions on better solutions from anyone who has one. So when it comes down to the question of “To PSAT or Not to PSAT?” I would say “To PSAT for those who would like to, and an opportunity to say ‘Not’ for those who don’t want to test.”