Testing Turmoil

ACT replaces leader and moves to cut costs; College Board accused of difficulties in SAT registration.

June 1, 2020
 
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The ACT on Thursday replaced its leader and announced plans to cut costs. The College Board on Thursday and Friday opened registration on its fall schedule for the SAT and quickly encountered problems.

And more colleges announced that they were going test optional for at least a year, while the demand to register for the SAT showed continued demand to take the test.

ACT

ACT announced that Marten Roorda was being replaced as CEO by Janet Godwin on an interim basis. Godwin has been at ACT for 30 years, most recently as chief operating officer.

Roorda arrived at ACT in 2015 after serving as CEO of Cito, a testing organization in the Netherlands.

During his time at ACT, Roorda was more public in expressing his views on issues that could help or hurt ACT than were his predecessors. Just last month, he sent a long letter to the University of California Board of Regents in which he urged it to reject the advice of Janet Napolitano, president of the system, to phase out the SAT and the ACT. The Board of Regents unanimously voted for Napolitano's plan.

The press release announcing the shift did not give a reason, but ACT (and the College Board) have faced numerous testing cancellations during the coronavirus pandemic. And the press release said that ACT was taking steps to save money.

"ACT postponed its April 2020 national test date out of concern for the safety of students and those administering the test, and also saw a significant decline in its state and district testing programs. While ACT will continue to offer testing in June and July, it will do so with fewer open test centers and social distancing practices reducing test centers’ capacities," the statement said. "ACT’s cost-cutting measures include voluntary options for its team members to reduce their work hours, take leaves of absence, or voluntarily resign and receive severance pay. In addition, the organization announced there would be no raises next year and some fringe benefits would be reduced. Beyond the steps announced Thursday, further cost reductions are expected."

The ACT is also facing criticism for holding a test in June. While ACT has historically been strongest in the Midwest, it has in recent years pushed -- with success -- for broader participation.

Jed Applerouth, who runs a test-prep service, took all the announced cancellations for June and determined that only 33 percent of testing centers are currently scheduled to be open.

"Students will be disproportionately affected across the country. No students in Massachusetts will be able to sit for a June ACT. In Wisconsin, a single test center of the 107 scheduled will be open. In New York, the state hardest hit by the pandemic, a mere 15 of their 203 sites are open," he wrote. "States with fewer than 10 percent of sites open include New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wisconsin."

When the SAT went ahead with a test date in March, as the pandemic was first surfacing in the United States, many testing centers closed and many students were unable to take the exam.

Tarah DeSousa, a spokeswoman for ACT, said, "We do not provide information on test center capacity. However, we can confirm that capacity has been greatly reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the necessity to prioritize testing for class of 2020 seniors and rising seniors. Our ability to provide testing options to students this spring was severely affected by the onset of the pandemic. Many students, including class of 2020 seniors, are in need of test scores for scholarship and admissions decisions. Students have worked hard to prepare and are eager to present the full picture of themselves to colleges and universities as they submit applications and apply to scholarships. Test scores can strengthen applications by offsetting weaker [grades] and showcasing resilience through successful navigation of bumps in the road along a student’s education journey. This requires us to provide flexible options for testing."

She added, "We’re committed to working with test centers that can safely open and are prepared to follow CDC guidelines to provide a safe opportunity for students to test. If at any time a student or parent does not feel comfortable testing, ACT will allow students to reschedule to a future test date or request a refund."

The College Board

Meanwhile, the College Board was attempting last week to open registration for the fall SATs. The College Board wasn't attempting to open registration for all students, but for those who were registered and unable to take the SAT in the spring and those who don't have any SAT score. Nonetheless, there were problems, according to college counselors.

Cristiana Quinn of College Admission Advisors, in Rhode Island, posted to the National Association for College Admission Counseling Listserv (and granted permission to reprint here), "Last night, students tried to register for the SAT (after being given instructions to do so as preferred kids who’d had prior tests canceled) only to be met with repeated technical problems, bouncing them out of the system and not allowing them to register. Families spent hours trying … I’m sure school counselors are hearing the same this morning from their kids," she wrote.

Quinn continued, "Honestly College Board, this is just too much. Among all the other usual issues annually … during COVID we’ve all ridden the wave of CB incompetence with students taking AP tests only to not be able to submit them, and then be told they’d have to take them again. We put up with March test kids who were canceled not being given priority for registration. And now this???? … I never thought I’d say this, but enough is enough. These tests need to go … across the board. There is just too much incompetence and it’s causing kids too much added stress."

When her students managed to get through (on Friday), Quinn said that many were too late for all but November or December test dates. "Too late" for early action or early decision, she said.

Many counselors wrote in to endorse her view and to report that they, too, were hearing from multiple students unable to register.

Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said via email, "The College Board's failure to have sufficient backup capacity in place to deal with the long-predicted surge of pent-up demand for SAT registration's demonstrates a clearer lack of aptitude than any of their standardized exam could possibly measure. The test makers flunked a basic performance assessment even though they knew what task they would have to perform well in advance."

On social media, students posted screenshots of their computers failing to connect to the College Board.

Zachary Goldberg, a spokesman for the College Board, said via email, "Given the spring administrations lost to coronavirus, we are seeing very high interest in students wanting to register for the SAT. As a result, there is a greater volume than usual of students trying to register at the same time, leading to some delays online. We appreciate students' patience, and recommend they try again later if they are experiencing delays. FWIW, we’re seeing very little chatter on social media this a.m. as there appears to be no/little delays."

He added that the College Board granted priority registration rights to those who don't have an SAT score or who may have registered for one of the canceled tests. But those students are also entitled to register with everyone else when the priority period is over.

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