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Students, parents fuming after 88 ACT college admission tests are lost in the mail

In this 2011 file photo, students are shown studying for the ACT college admission test. (AP Photo The Enquirer/Patrick Reddy)

On a mid-September Saturday morning, 296 students converged on Southern High School in Anne Arundel County for a grueling ritual that college-bound teenagers nationwide know all too well: The ACT college admission test. These students probably assumed the tough part was over when the proctor called time and collected their answer sheets.

But 88 of those answer sheets got lost in the mail after they were sent for scoring, leaving 88 Maryland students without anything to show for hours of toil and parents fuming about whether the foul-up will cause their children to miss deadlines for college or scholarship applications.

Cheryl Klam, of Annapolis, said she was shocked when she heard what happened to her daughter’s answer sheet.

“When there’s so much pressure on these kids, they’re shoving them in an envelope and sending them in U.S. mail?” Klam said Wednesday. “Really? This is an important part of these kids’ futures.”

Klam said her daughter, a senior at Annapolis High, is a diligent student who took the ACT earlier in the year, got a good score, then spent weeks preparing for what she thought would be her second and final try. “She studied all summer,” Klam said. “She’s up against some pretty brilliant kids. There’s a lot of pressure.”

ACT officials delivered the bad news this week to 88 students who took the test at Southern High on Sept. 12.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” Ed Colby, a spokesman for the Iowa-based testing organization, told The Washington Post. “The package that contained them, sent via first-class U.S. mail through the U.S. Postal Service, was damaged during shipping, and when it arrived here, 88 answer sheets were missing.

“The package included a note from USPS acknowledging that the package had been damaged, and apologizing. We continue to work with the U.S. Postal Service in trying to find the missing materials, and we are hopeful that they can be located.”

In Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well as many states in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, the SAT college admission test remains more widely used. But the ACT in recent years has gained market share in the Washington region and elsewhere. Its usage has grown significantly in Maryland and Virginia.

About 1.92 million students in the class of 2015 took the ACT, the most widely used admission test in the country. About 1.7 million took the SAT, including some from overseas.

With so many taking college admission tests each year, mix-ups happen from time to time, raising anxieties for students who believe their future hangs on getting the best possible score. Some families spend thousands of dollars on test preparation in hopes that their children can get at or close to a perfect score of 36 on the ACT or 2400 on the SAT.

In May, answer sheets for 263 students who took the SAT went missing for weeks after the exam was administered at Broad Run High School in Loudoun County. A white box containing the sheets was later found on a cart in the school’s shipping area.

[Lost and found: Missing SAT answer sheets discovered.]

Colby said that ACT is refunding the registration fee for all of the Maryland students affected — $56.50 for those who also signed up for the optional essay — and is registering them to retake the test for free on Oct. 24. If that date doesn’t work for them, they will be able to switch to another date for free.

“ACT sincerely regrets any inconvenience that students and their parents may be experiencing as a result of this unfortunate situation,” Colby said.

Colby said that it is standard procedure for test materials to be returned to ACT via Federal Express.

“So, in this case, the packages were sent through USPS in error, but this happens occasionally and usually is not a problem,” he said. ACT used the postal service as its primary carrier for a number of years, Colby said, delivering “very reliable and efficient service.”

“A package sent through any carrier can be lost or damaged; no carrier is immune to such things,” Colby said. “We would not hesitate to use USPS in the future.”

Lisa Hawkins, an Annapolis mother, said the testing mishap was the second this year to affect her son Ryan. She said he also took a version of the SAT in June that was marred by printing errors in test booklets, leading the College Board to discard the results from two of the test’s 10 sections.

“I’m livid,” Hawkins said. “These tests are just too important. There needs to be a safeguard in place so this doesn’t happen.”

Hawkins said she spent hundreds of dollars on tutoring to help her 16-year-old son get ready for three sittings of the SAT and one of the ACT. She said her son was mentally exhausted after taking the ACT, only to be surprised again to learn of another testing problem.

“He was so disappointed to get this news.”

Read more:

Lost and found: Missing SAT answer sheets discovered.

ACT usage grows but scores stagnate

SAT scores at lowest level in 10 years, fueling worries about high schools