The public health crisis that shuttered schools from coast to coast in March has taken an extraordinary toll on the education system, including testing for 11th-grade students who are thinking about college.
Without venues for students to gather en masse under the eyes of testing proctors, the College Board this spring has canceled SAT sessions for an estimated 1 million high school juniors who would have been taking it for the first time.
Significant disruptions have also hit the rival ACT test. The next ACT national session is scheduled for June 13, but whether it will proceed remains unclear.
College Board officials said they want to alleviate student anxieties.
“Our first principle with the SAT and all our work must be to keep families and students safe,” College Board chief executive David Coleman said in a statement. “The second principle is to make the SAT as widely available as possible for students who wish to test, regardless of the economic or public health circumstances.”
Coleman said the College Board will expand normal testing in the fall, if the public health emergency eases and schools reopen. That includes a new Saturday session in September as well as more school-day testing in states and districts that have contracts with the College Board.
“In the unlikely event that schools do not reopen this fall, the College Board will provide a digital SAT for home use,” the organization said. Home testing is already in the works for Advanced Placement students in May and June — 45-minute versions of those exams in specialized subjects such as history, English and calculus. The at-home AP tests will be open-book, using a written-response format and no multiple-choice questions.
To launch an at-home version of the multiple-choice SAT would set a major precedent, raising huge questions about test security and access to computers and the Internet for students from low-income families. The test takes three hours, not counting breaks or the optional 50-minute essay. It covers math and evidence-based reading and writing, yielding scores of up to 1600. Testing centers use rigorous protocols to deter cheating. Students are not allowed to access cellphones, for instance, and they must bring photo identification to enter a national testing site.
The College Board pledged to ensure that at-home SAT testing “is simple; secure and fair; accessible to all; and valid for use in college admissions.” The organization said it has been using digital versions of the SAT in several states and districts: “While the idea of at-home SAT testing is new, digital delivery of the test is not.”
Jeremy Singer, president of the College Board, told reporters that recent advances in remote proctoring and online testing make an at-home exam possible. “If this was four years ago, we could not make this commitment,” he said. “The technology was not there.”
ACT officials said they, too, are developing a test-at-home plan for late fall or early winter. "We are working closely with our partners in higher education and relying on their guidance in the development of this new option to ensure that it will meet their needs for score integrity,” ACT chief executive Marten Roorda said in a statement.
The upheaval in testing has led many selective colleges and universities to announce they will end or suspend requirements for test scores as a component of application packages.
“Our collective concern during this public health crisis is that students remain home and not risk their health to take standardized tests,” Swarthmore College said as it announced a test-optional policy for the next two years. “We are also concerned about the future of testing administrations, in the United States and around the world.”
The eight Ivy League universities, as well as numerous other ultra-competitive schools, however, continue to require scores. Testing also is important to students who want to compete for merit scholarships at state universities.
Coleman declined to second-guess colleges that go test-optional because of the pandemic. “We support colleges and our members totally,” he said, “in whatever flexibilities they adopt during these very challenging times.”