The Digital Divide

Judith Lang Journalism Scholarship – Journalism

Kailyn Groves

Traverse City Central – 11th Grade

Every year, Central holds a PSAT day for high school students. Traditionally, the test has been given on paper, but there have been many changes to the format in recent years. When COVID initially forced staff and students to stay home and quarantine, students were not able to take the test, and it was uncertain when and how makeup tests could be done. In response, College Board, the organization who designs these standardized tests, created a digital version of the test so students could remain at home, and it was successful. As a result, the College Board started to play with the idea of making all of their tests digital in the future.
After a few years of trying digital testing with freshmen classes, it proved to be a success. Because of this, College Board opted to expand digital testing to all grade levels this past fall. All 9th-11th graders at Central took the PSAT digitally for the first time, but it wasn’t without its problems. Due to some technology issues, some students and staff struggled to access the test before nine in the morning. “You have to keep in mind that there were over 500 high schools in Michigan that were given that same test, at the same time, on the same day, and the College Board had not done that yet,” Assistant Principal Brian Guiney states. “It’s logical that there was some lag time, but I know that was stressful for us.” Despite the technology issues in the beginning, the test flowed smoothly without many other issues.
October’s testing brought both positive and negative perspectives and some strong opinions, especially in the pacing. “I think that it is a lot more stressful for students,” Isabelle Cox ‘27 claims. “Last year, I had done it on paper, and I felt like that was a lot easier and better.” Students tend to worry about how much time they have when taking standardized tests, and the digital PSAT uses a timer at the top of the program that counts down the time remaining in the current section. For some, the timer is anxiety-provoking, while for others, it’s a helpful tool to use when they are finished with the test or just starting. “We are always on screens [anyways, and] the timer shown at the top [makes] us rush and not think clearly,” Cox shares.
Some students did find the digital format better for their own needs. “It just felt faster,” explains Elaina
Chippewa ‘25. “Instead of me staring at a piece of paper, I could easily go to the questions I wanted to…and come back to them when needed.”
Teachers seem to have a more positive attitude toward digital testing based on the advantages digital assessments bring. “I think it’s a good thing,” Science teacher Mary Boulanger argues. “I also like that students can move along and then their test will automatically start the next [section] so that they don’t have to sit and wait for everyone to start and end at the exact same time.” Administrators and other staff members are also thankful for digital testing because it removes the time spent going through instructions and organizing thousands of testing materials. “The number one benefit for the digital tests is [that] we don’t have to organize, pass out, collect, and then ship a bunch of paper materials back to the College Board to be graded,” Guiney remarks. “It saves money on our end and it also is much less of an environmental footprint for Central and the College Board.”
The digital PSAT will be established for upcoming years for all high schoolers registered to take the test.
According to the College Board, it’s mandatory to take the test digitally from now on unless they decide otherwise. In the foreseeable future, students will most likely be sent back to class after the test and will continue until the end of the school day, regardless of whether a student has accommodations. In past years, students had the rest of the day off from school. “We have to meet a certain amount of instructional minutes over the course of the 180 day school year in order to receive funding from the state of Michigan,” explains

Guiney. Even though this is a downer for students to have to go back to class, the day would not “count” towards the required attendance and we would have to make up the lost time later in the year.
To get data on what the general consensus is for this issue, the Black & Gold Quarterly polled Central students about their opinions. The overall results showed that more students favor digital testing rather than paper, but when it comes to the class breakdown, the freshmen class was the only group that overwhelmingly preferred digital testing. In comparison, upperclassmen seem more split, with seniors preferring paper testing significantly more.
Standardized testing and the new format for the PSAT has been a hot-button issue for many Central students this year. The way testing will be formatted now and for the years ahead is the future for all of us, and hopefully in time, it will be a better experience overall.