By Madison Bratley ‘21
The June 6 SAT administration is cancelled, the College Board announced Wednesday, after public health guidance “made clear” that administering the exam would pose a public health risk. This follows the testing organization being unable to hold earlier spring administrations of the high-stakes exam, including Payton’s April administration, over COVID-19 fears. If test centers remain closed this fall, the College Board says it will administer the exam online. Should testing centers reopen, the College Board will offer an administration of the exam each calendar month beginning in August.
The College Board’s announcement comes after Payton juniors were unable to take the school’s usual April administration of the SAT due to coronavirus-related school closures. This test would have been the juniors’ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), replacing the October PSAT juniors missed due to the Chicago teacher strike. “With my closer friends who share their schedules with me, test prep is always included, whether it includes full-length practice tests at least once a week or hours of tutoring a few times a week,” said Michelle Zhang ‘21. “With even more preparation put [into the April SAT] compared to the PSAT, this cancellation definitely made me feel like there was no point to a lot of the work I put in.” Winners of the National Merit scholarship receive a one-time payment of $2,500 for college costs. Right now, it is unclear if the College Board will provide juniors another opportunity to take a qualifying exam.
For the SAT itself, students graduating in 2021 who have not yet taken the exam and students who had registered for the June administration will have “early access” beginning in May to registration for the August, September, and October test dates, according to the College Board. There usually is no testing date in September, but one has been added this year. Those who had registered for the May exam, had their March administration’s test centers close, or were unable to receive their exam scores from the March administration will receive refunds. Students who had registered in June will not receive refunds but will be able to transfer their June registration to their new chosen test date free of charge. On the College Board website, the organization says, “We’re committed to giving students as many chances as we can to show their strengths to colleges, while relying on the guidance of public health officials.” The organization also is asking member schools, colleges, and local communities to expand test center capacities in the fall “so every student who wants to take the SAT can do so.” Additional information about district and state administrations is expected to be provided in the coming weeks.
Although Payton only offers the SAT, many Payton students choose to take the ACT on their own. The next ACT exam remains scheduled for June 13, but its future is uncertain. However, according to the Wall Street Journal, an ACT spokesman said the company will “offer a computer-based, at-home option for students in late fall or early winter … with practice sessions available as soon as August.” Kaplan Inc., the company responsible for administering the exam, already had been administering the exam online for participating U.S. districts and students outside of the U.S. even before the coronavirus pandemic began. Indeed, it had planned on expanding that opportunity in September 2020, arguing it would allow quicker scoring, along with allowing students to retake specific sections of the ACT rather than sit through the entire exam. Those advantages do not come without tradeoffs, though. “It’s really hard to do the ACT online,” says Manru Huang ‘21. “In the science section a lot of students would circle key words from the questions or underline or draw on the graph, so it’s really hard to take the test online.”
The College Board says it will offer online SAT tests only in the “unlikely” event that schools remain closed next fall, though no details have been officially released on whether there will be any substantial changes to the exam. However, the College Board recently sent a survey to some students asking about their testing preferences. The survey asked students whether they think an online SAT test should be spread out over multiple days, and whether an online version should be shorter or the same length as a traditional pencil-and-paper administration of the exam. On its website, the College Board wrote, “[A]s we’re doing with at-home Advanced Placement exams, we would ensure that at-home SAT testing is simple, secure and fair, accessible to all, and valid for use in college admissions.” Advanced Placement tests, also offered by the College Board, have already moved online, but are significantly modified compared to the usual exam. Tests this spring will only be 45 minutes long, a fraction of an exam’s usual length, and will only consist of free response questions. To prevent cheating, the College Board decided to remove the ordinary multiple choice section.
Many are concerned that moving standardized testing online could only further exacerbate inequality between students. Standardized testing has long been accused of favoring wealthy students, but many are concerned that by moving the test online, students with less reliable internet access or a more crowded living situation will be significantly disadvantaged.
The move by the College Board to potentially offer an online SAT exam comes after many colleges and universities made their application process test-optional. According to CNN, at least 51 schools have dropped the requirement, including Boston University, Scripps College, the University of Washington, and the entire University of California system. Though many of these 51 schools are planning to eventually readopt the requirement for upcoming cycles, some have abandoned it entirely, leaving the College Board and Kaplan Inc. with less business for future admission cycles.
Image courtesy of the College Board