In the latest about-face caused by the coronavirus, students have gone from being stressed about taking exams to stressing over not taking exams. With the cancellation of spring and possibly summer SAT and ACT testing, many high school juniors have been left in limbo.
So far, two solutions have been proposed. The first is for colleges and universities to drop the SAT/ACT requirement for fall 2021 admissions. While more than 1100 institutions are already test-optional, at least another 51 – including Boston University and all University of California campuses – have recently waived the requirement for students applying for the class of 2025.
Closer to home, the list includes St. Thomas University in Miami. “The university will now be test-optional, meaning students may choose to submit test scores if they have them, but applications from students without scores will also be considered. The lack of test scores will not impact the university’s evaluation of the student’s application,” according to the university’s website.
Tania Alam, a junior at Northeast High School, is worried about how the missing scores might affect her in the long term. “Many people say that the class of 2021 is lucky because we don’t have to submit our scores to colleges, but it’s bigger than that,” she said. “The Bright Futures Scholarship depends on an ACT/SAT score and many juniors can’t take it right now. The score I got on March 4 was close to my goal, but since the April and May SAT have been canceled I feel unmotivated [to improve].”
The second proposed workaround has proved far more controversial. Last week it was announced that both the SAT and ACT are developing digitized versions of the exams that could be taken at home, prompting worries over inequity and the potential for cheating.
“Cheating [could] make the test results unreliable,” said Alam. “I know that the Advanced Placement (AP) tests are being administered online now, but they made it somewhat hard to cheat. I’m not sure how that’s going to work for the SAT/ACT.”
The AP exams, which are also run by the College Board, will be held online in May and have been modified to facilitate at-home test-taking. Tests will consist of open-book, free-response questions and students can use a computer, tablet or smartphone to complete them. Questions can also be answered by uploading a photo of a hand-written response.
Aside from the possibility of cheating, Alam also noted that it could be hard for some students to focus on the test if they have a less-than-ideal home situation. But not everyone shares her concerns.
“I definitely think it’s fair,” said Riley Stevers, also a junior at Northeast High School. “Especially considering it’s a test you’d have to study or practice for on your own time. It’s not like a class-based test like an [End Of Course test], where students are really missing out because of school closures.”
The SATs and AP tests aren’t the only ones that have students worried; it’s also the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education, or AICE, testing. The AICE is similar to AP classes where students must pass a test at the end of the school year in order to receive credit for a course, but it counts toward a diploma awarded by Cambridge University, not toward college credit like AP classes.
“I’m more worried about the people I know aiming for the diploma [who are concerned about] about missing the mark with the new grading scheme,” said Stevers. Teachers have been asked to predict what grade students would have received on the now canceled exam after which Cambridge International will perform a “standardization process” to determine final grades.
“I’m stressed about how they will decide if we pass or fail. For the entire year I knew it would be determined by the exam but now it’s not like that,” said Alam.