How the College Board ignores Taiwanese Americans


Clio Koh, News Editor

After a school year of emails, clarifications, phone calls and polite conversation turned into arguments, it became clear that the College Board isn’t going to listen. How a billion-dollar testing company fails to do research on their own test subjects is a mystery that will never cease to astound me. The chances are, after you finish reading this article, you will probably understand more about the Chinese language than the College Board ever will.

Chinese is a complex language with many written forms. The two major ones are Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese; both sound the same when spoken out loud, but they are distinctively different in what they look like and how they are typed.

While Simplified Chinese is typed through the Latin alphabet-the familiar ABCs- Traditional Chinese is typed through a different system called “bopomofo.” This is the simple, crucial fact the College Board failed to grasp: the keyboards for Simplified and Traditional Chinese are not the same. The nuance with the keyboards is something few non-Chinese people know about, but I had thought that surely the College Board would know better. Even my Chinese teacher, Cilei Han, reassured me beforehand that the College Board would provide the right keyboard, but we were both disappointed on exam day when I was left out to dry. 

On the writing portion of the exam, I struggled to type a full sentence before the time ran out. It was a wretched feeling to spend an entire year studying for an exam that I ultimately could not do because of unfair circumstances. Along with William Thistlewaite, another student who also uses Traditional Chinese, we pleaded our case to the test proctor, who waited for an hour on the phone to talk to the College Board, only to receive a disappointing response. 

After the exam, William and his parents called the College Board multiple times. I only recently learned that they were successful in terms that the College Board offered to cover his cost if he decides to retake the AP Chinese exam, even going so far as to say they will make changes in the exam. Needless to say, that promise was not followed in the least. 

Like William, I contacted people who I thought could help me: the school’s AP Coordinator Barbara Mackey, Counselor Michele Tyra and Dickinson. It was near the end of a school year, and Dickinson was moving to California to be the principal at another school. Still, he told me he was confident that the College Board would agree with me, and that the next principal would help me as well.

Now almost a year later, the responses from the College Board are the similarly worded refusal, quite different from William’s experience. The College Board told me there is software pre-installed on the exam computers that will help me type Traditional Chinese, something I already knew about. The software lets the computer process the input from the keyboard. Essentially, the software helps the computer display Traditional Chinese. It doesn’t help me type it. For that, I would need an actual, physical, keyboard. But no matter how many times the AP Coordinator explains this to the College Board, looking at the response we received, we might as well have talked to a solid wall.

Like me, my parents were disappointed by the results. My dad is Taiwanese and has used Traditional Chinese his entire life, while my mom is Chinese and uses Simplified Chinese. They were both indignant that for all the effort poured into an issue that should have never happened in the first place, no changes have been made at all. 

My sister Eileen said she would not take the AP Chinese exam until the keyboards have been provided. She’d faced the exact same keyboard issue while taking the STAMP test. Unlike the AP exam, the STAMP test didn’t have a time limit. Eileen finished the reading, listening and speaking section quickly, but spent hours on the writing portion, trying to make do with a wrong keyboard. She didn’t want her efforts on the previous sections to be wasted, as a result she was the last person to leave the testing center after everyone else had left. In fact, she was gone for so long that our parents thought something had happened to her. In the end, a test that was supposed to take two hour turned into five.  

Of course, we were angry; we were upset that something so blatantly unfair had happened. But in the back of our minds, we had also expected it. Why did we fear that the Traditional Chinese keyboard would not be provided? The answer is a complicated story that involves the historical, political tension between Taiwan and China. While I don’t want to think that politics is behind the College Board’s actions, the implications and impacts are real and hard to ignore. 

Traditional Chinese is politically tied to Taiwan, while Simplified Chinese is politically tied to China. The fact that the latter country has been aggressively diminishing Taiwan’s international presence for decades in attempts to undermine its independence is something that should be gravely concerning for everyone. As language is an important part of a country’s culture, China’s attempts to diminish Taiwan’s global presence include diminishing the presence of Traditional Chinese as well.

The precarious and sometimes invisible situation of Taiwan is something I’ve always been aware of as a kid growing up in Taiwan. Now in America, I can’t help but see the long-reaching impact of China’s aggression through the weak presence of Taiwan’s language in related spheres. 

This is why the keyboard issue, which might seem insignificant at first glance, is really important for Taiwanese American students, and why a year later after the AP Chinese exam, I have yet to let the issue go.

Despite equity being something engraved in the policies of both the College Board and our school, when an equity issue occurs, I have come to realize that making change is very, very hard. I’ve been told that I’m the only person who ever had a problem with the AP Chinese exam. I’ve been told that rules are rules and that I can’t ask for special treatment. Officials have told me that they understand, then ask me why I can’t just memorize the keyboard. Equity is defined as being fair and impartial; it means that everyone is given fair treatment. Is it fair that I’m required to memorize the keyboard while others do not have to? The AP exam tests for my Chinese fluency, not how well I can type blind. If the College Board’s equity policy states that they wish to “remove barriers to access”, they should very well deliver on that promise. 

I was far from being the only person who was disadvantaged by the lack of Traditional Chinese keyboards. But even if I’m the first one who ever said anything, it shouldn’t mean my concerns are any less credible. The response I receive shouldn’t be to stop making a fuss.

Though Traditional Chinese may be a minority in AP testing, worldwide, it’s an internationally recognized form of Chinese and used almost exclusively in places such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. I believe it’s time for the College Board to acknowledge that. For the past year, the AP Coordinator and I have been asking the organization to provide all Chinese students with the right keyboards, to no avail.

But the long haul hasn’t been entirely fruitless. Recently, I’ve taken the STAMP test after my sister. The creator of the STAMP Test, Avant Assessment, agreed to let me use a Traditional Chinese keyboard that I’ve brought from home after a week of email correspondence with Ms. Mackey. It was a small gesture, but it raised questions against the College Board. If Avant Assessment can understand and allow me to use a Traditional Chinese keyboard, why can’t the College Board do the same?