By: Alexa Baiata, Editorial Staff (‘21)
The COVID-19 pandemic has not left a single corner of anyone’s life untouched. Students, especially, have had to cope with the severe ramifications that the virus has had on everyday life. Virtual school is challenging for many students, and the already vigorous college application process has been amplified. The College Board and the ACT both had to adapt after shutdowns in March, with all test dates between March and June getting canceled. Now, there are many regulations in place that are designed to keep testing fair and safe. While necessary, these adaptations are nowhere near perfect and can cause other problems for students.
Standardized test proctors have created strict guidelines to take precautionary measures to combat COVID-19. On October 6th, Indian Hills offered an ACT testing day, which had incredibly strict rules for students. An email sent to students who were registered stated, “Due to COVID-19 restrictions, students can not bring food or water with them to testing,” as well as saying, “Students are responsible for bringing their own pencils and a working calculator….unfortunately, these materials can not be provided to students,.” These regulations make sense to prevent the spread of the disease. However, the ACT lasts approximately four hours with the essay portion, which was included for all students in this specific test. A standardized test day is grueling, as every student’s knowledge and focus are being tested simultaneously.
The social distancing requirements seem harmless but have had impacts on test-taking in 2020 as well. Adhering to social distancing protocols means that schools can only offer a very limited number of seats for these exams. According to one Indian Hills student who took the September SAT, a student asked to move because the clock was not visible from their seat, but they could not due to the social distancing setup in the classroom. These conditions make for added stress on test days, as the already rigorously proctored test has become even less flexible.
The responsibility of test providers, like the College Board and the ACT, has been up for debate among students. Test site closures have been a big issue for juniors and seniors trying to take their SATs this year. While the choice of an individual school to cancel their SAT is not something that the College Board can control, the organization should be responsible for notifying the students who are paying to take their tests that the sites have closed. The College Board’s SAT Coronavirus Updates page states, “Students should frequently check email and the test center closure page before and on test day to confirm their center is open. Test centers may have closed or rescheduled to a makeup date at the last minute even if there is still an active admission ticket,” effectively putting the responsibility on the students. In many cases, students would check their College Board account and find that they still had a valid testing ticket. Unfortunately, this information was not up to date for many students who had valid testing tickets even though their testing site had closed or restricted the students who could take the test to only students who attended the school. The lack of up to date information made it extremely difficult for many students to get their standardized test scores. Now, the College Board has updated its website to include a search function where students who are registered for SAT exams can check to see if their test center is still open. This is a major improvement for people scrambling to take the SAT. However, this feature was added late into the COVID crisis, as the last test that most seniors will be able to take has already passed.
While the process of taking these tests has become more challenging due to the pandemic, most schools have become test-optional for students who are applying to begin school in the Fall 2021 semester. Many assume that test-optional is a good thing, but the terms “test-optional” and “test blind” are not interchangeable. While many schools may be going “test-optional,” they are still taking into consideration the test scores of students who were able to take the normally required tests. Other schools that are “test blind” do not consider any test scores whatsoever. This distinction is important, because, for students who do not have a test score to report, their grades, extracurriculars, leadership, teacher recommendations, and the rest of their application will be judged much more harshly. For most students, it would be advantageous to have their test scores considered. Schools going test-optional for their applications can make it seem like they are more forgiving to students because of the test cancellations due to COVID-19. For a school that is test blind, this is true. However, when schools are still considering tests for many applicants, it makes applications more difficult and more competitive.
Overall, COVID-19 has brought many problems for students this year, and standardized testing was no exception. COVID-19 is a serious threat that schools and test administrators should be protecting students from. However, the College Board and the ACT both failed a lot of students, especially seniors who ran out of time to take their tests before college application deadlines. These are very difficult times to navigate, but test proctors, as well as colleges, could have been more accommodating and less harsh for students who were disadvantaged by the changes that had to be made to standardized testing this year.