Standardized Testing Confronts COVID-19 Challenges

     All across the country, students and colleges are scrambling to deal with the aftermath of ACT and SAT test cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students are travelling hours away to take a test, only to have it cancelled at the last minute. Colleges are considering disregarding ACT and SAT scores all together. So what will this mean for the future of the ACT and SAT tests?

     Because of the sporadic cancellations, the College Board‘s official website keeps a running list of SAT test centers and their statuses. Many of the test centers are closed while a few are listed as “makeup to be determined.” The College Board promises communication by email in the result of a cancellation, but because of the fickle nature of the pandemic’s spread, students will not always be notified of last minute cancellations in a timely manner.

     The ACT website focuses on frequently asked questions and attempts to shed light on the many concerns of students, parents and teachers. Their list of test cancellations, however, is much harder to navigate. Many students have trouble signing in or finding information about the status of their test center. Additionally, students may not be notified of last minute test cancellations and often show up to tests that have been cancelled only a few hours, or even minutes, before. Thankfully, the ACT also promises to email students if their test has been cancelled, and it will try to reschedule cancellations as soon as possible.

     Despite the ACT and SAT’s best efforts to schedule (and reschedule) students to take the tests in convenient locations, health and safety accommodations have reduced test center capacities and necessary cancellations have increased the number of students trying to secure their spots. As a result, some students are forced to travel hours away to take their tests. Some are even forced to take the tests in different states. And some may show up to their test center only to have it cancelled just as they arrive. Because of this, many students find it extremely difficult to secure a spot at a testing center.

     Many members of this year’s Class of 2021 are scrambling to register for tests because they have not yet had the chance to take them. Whether their tests were cancelled, or they had plans to take the ACT and SAT at the end of the year, seniors were left in a difficult position. The ACT is working to prioritize graduates who still haven’t had the chance to take the test, but this is a large group of students who have missed out. While they work on providing testing space for members of the Class of 2020, there is no guarantee that members of the Class of 2021 will get priority over this year‘s juniors. The College Board has similar plans to prioritize the Class of 2020. Until the majority of the graduates whose tests were cancelled have the chance to reschedule, it’s likely that current seniors will be forced to vie with juniors to secure spots.

     In addition to the difficulties involved with securing a spot and dealing with rescheduled tests, students also have to contend with health and safety requirements. It is important to socially distance, especially when surrounded by large, unknown crowds. However, spacing students six feet apart can reduce the capacity of test centers, causing an even greater backup of students wishing to take the ACT or SAT. Also, masks, while extremely important to slowing the spread of COVID-19, could potentially be distracting to students during the test. According to Caden Gierstorf of the Class of 2021, wearing a mask was “not bad overall,” but it was slightly distracting towards the end of the test when wearing it for a prolonged period of time caused it to be “heavy and sweaty.” Additionally, students’ glasses may fog up, their mask may be itchy, or they may just have trouble focusing. Thankfully, wearing masks during hybrid days prepares students to wear their masks when they take standardized tests. Despite these distractions, it is vital that we follow the guidelines and procedures set in place to protect us, lest we face another year of frequent test cancellations and hasty, panicked solutions.

     One important question still remains: what does this mean for the future of the ACT and SAT? According to an article published by NBC Chicago, 350 colleges have already decided to make standardized test scores an optional part of the applications since the pandemic began. This is helpful to students who weren’t able to take either the ACT or SAT due to COVID-19, but now students are forced to wonder how important these scores are. Is taking the ACT and SAT worth the health risks? According to an article published by NPR, “not having test scores won’t hurt a student,” but “having good scores will certainly help.”

     Unfortunately, everything is up in the air. Colleges are forced to abandon tried and true processes of selecting the top applicants. They are being forced to rely more heavily on interviews, essays, and extracurriculars. Students are forced to make difficult decisions and weigh risks versus rewards while praying they have made the right decision. While there is no possible way of knowing what the right decisions are, and the future is clouded by a looming pandemic, Fenwick students already have a leg up in academics, extracurriculars, and college counseling. The road to an acceptance letter is far from straight, but Fenwick students can rest easy knowing they will have support on their journeys.