The College Board and ACT Can Save Testing

They need to take over from high schools the process of offering tests, writes David Benjamin Gruenbaum.

June 29, 2020
 

In June 2019, I wrote a column for Inside Higher Ed stating that the College Board (the company that owns the SAT) and ACT needed to move away from using high school administrators and counselors to run their tests. At the time, I was focusing on the issue of test security, which is still a problem.

Now, it’s a question of survival. Families are getting fed up with all of the test cancellations. Very few high schools across the country have been willing to run the tests so far this summer. Will many high schools even be willing to run the SAT and ACT in the fall? And what if coronavirus doesn’t disappear? Can the College Board and ACT survive another year or two of constant test cancellations?

Colleges are tired of waiting as well. Many of them have begrudgingly moved to making the SAT/ACT optional for candidates applying for fall 2021.

At the same time, commercial real estate is crashing. What do those two things have in common? Simple answer, it’s time for the College Board and ACT to take over the whole process and eliminate high schools from the process. College Board and the ACT should rent or buy office or warehouse space in big cities and run their tests at these locations. If they don’t want to rent office space year-round, the College Board and ACT could emulate Halloween stores, which rent store space seasonally.

Yes, this would require hiring additional staff. Yes, it might mean that students in rural areas might need to drive farther to take tests. But this plan would also mean that the ACT and SAT would cancel fewer tests. In addition, a hybrid plan could work: some permanent offices and some high school testing sites. (Also, another way to go: How about bribing high schools to make sure they run the tests by paying them more this year?) The bottom line is that the tests have to happen.

Here’s the good news for the College Board and ACT: at least in our area, California, grades are once again going to be a mess this school year for high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. Many school districts are discussing the creation of a “hybrid” system, whereby the student population would be split in two, and some students would attend school on Monday and Wednesday, while others would go on Tuesday and Thursday. Other school districts, because of budget cuts, are considering not even opening campuses and instead continuing with 100 percent distance learning! I have heard zero talk about how tests in school would be run and how grading would be done properly. If schools run tests on their campuses, it will eat up valuable in-person teaching time; if schools run their tests online, there will be massive cheating. It’s one thing for big companies like the College Board and ACT to work on security for online testing; it’s quite another for high schools to attempt to handle testing security issues by themselves.

Also, many high/middle/elementary schools may still stay with pass-fail grading and, just as bad, some schools may continue with the “If we go into distance learning, your grades can’t drop” policy. At some point, every high/middle/elementary school administrator and teacher in this country knows that students and their parents are going to be upset with them no matter what they do. It’s a lose-lose situation. So, who is going to be the “mean” teacher or administrator that gives kids bad grades?

You think you have seen grade inflation before? Wait till you see what’s coming this school year: "GPA" will stand for garbage point average!

What a joke that colleges will make good decisions this fall without grades from the end of junior year. With many colleges going SAT/ACT optional, what criteria will college admissions officers use to decide who gains admission to their colleges?

Despite what you may have read in the media, many colleges don't want to drop the SAT/ACT. If colleges decide to go test optional permanently, it is often for the reason my alma mater, University of Chicago, went test optional. Going test optional means that more minority students will apply and be accepted. Still, for the majority of the applicant pool, top colleges and universities often want the SAT/ACT data because they know they are invaluable to help determine the caliber of the applicant.

So, if the public and colleges know that they can count on the SAT and ACT tests being administered, whether it’s through an online version or in person, we all win. Lately, the ACT has been the one trying to persevere by trying to make the July ACT work. Also, unlike the College Board, which promised everyone that they would absolutely have an online test ready by end of August and then wimping out, the ACT is still sticking to its plan to have an online test ready in the fall.

It hasn’t been perfect, though. The ACT made a bad mistake with their June ACT campaign. They hooked people in late May with a promise that “If you sign up now, you won’t pay late fees” and then ended up canceling most of the June tests around the country. I have no idea why the ACT went with this cheap ploy, and it certainly made the company look bad.

But the good news is there’s a way out that is better for everyone! ACT and the College Board, are you listening? Get it together and make the July and August tests happen. And colleges and universities, stop playing games and re-embrace the standard you need to make proper decisions.

Guess what: you need each other!

Bio

David Benjamin Gruenbaum owns the private education company Ahead of the Class. Gruenbaum has personally prepared over 8,000 fourth through 11th graders in Gruenbaum Academy and for the SAT and ACT.

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