The future of the SAT & ACT: 5 possibilities for socially distanced and at-home testing

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After the wave of breaking news on SAT and ACT summer and fall testing plans, ArborBridge’s instruction team has tracked down some behind-the-scenes details about the future of college admissions testing. While no decisions have been set in stone, we’ve put together a summary of the top possibilities the College Board and ACT are considering in the wake of the latest coronavirus-related testing changes and cancellations.

Socially distanced in-person testing: 3 key options

As certain locations start to reopen, the College Board and ACT are planning proactive steps to enable in-person administration while ensuring student safety. Here’s what they’re thinking about:

  1. Increased space between test takers. At a webinar panel on how COVID-19 has changed the testing industry, ACT CEO Marten Roorda said ACT is looking at maps of specific test centers and identifying locations where tests can still run with social distancing guidelines in place. Both the College Board and ACT really want students to be able to sit for exams even if social distancing measures are in place, and one way they hope to accomplish this is by spreading out space between students while they test.
  2. More test centers = more space. Last week, College Board CEO David Coleman led a webinar for school counselors where he talked about a push to make more test centers available. This would ideally maintain the number of available seats on a given test day while spreading students out across test centers in order to maintain social distancing guidelines. The College Board is reaching out to schools and test centers this week in an effort to expand the number of sites for the upcoming summer and fall test dates.
  3. Staggered entrances and exits. Social distancing measures will require a rethinking of test day logistics. The College Board is looking into policy changes that could involve staggering students going in and out of test centers, adjusting the layout of students’ entrance and exit pathways, and changing the sign-in process to follow social distancing guidelines.

ArborBridge’s analysis: More test centers would be good news for the rush of students hoping to squeeze in exams before college application deadlines. Still, spots are likely to fill up quickly, and it will be important for class of 2021 students who want to sit for the SAT to take advantage of the College Board’s 1-week priority registration. In the meantime—especially if summer exams indeed take place—the pressure is on for ACT, the College Board, and individual test centers to come up with concrete test day plans sooner rather than later. 

Digital, at-home testing: 2 possibilities

In the event that schools and test centers are unable to reopen in the fall, the College Board will administer a digital, at-home SAT for both domestic and international students. ACT also plans to launch digital, at-home testing for U.S. students in fall/early winter 2020, although it’s not yet clear whether or when at-home testing will be available for international students. Another big question is what at-home SAT/ACT testing would even look like. Here’s what the College Board and ACT are considering so far:

  1. Live proctors for every exam. We are waiting on details from the College Board aside from an acknowledgement that an at-home SAT would require proctoring at a scale never before seen. Meanwhile, ACT is looking at numerous options for administering the at-home ACT. One option would be live proctoring every full-length exam with a webcam on each student for the entire duration of the exam.
  2. Provisional score reports verified by shorter, live-proctored exams. Another option the ACT is considering is to have students take a full exam without a proctor and then receive a “provisional score report” for that exam. In order to verify their provisional scores, students would need to take a shorter exam—20 minutes or so—which would be live proctored. It’s unclear how soon after the full-length exam this verification exam would occur.

ArborBridge’s analysis: We still have more questions than answers about how digital, at-home testing would work. For starters, disparities in students’ internet access, technology, and at-home testing environments could pose real problems we’re not sure the College Board and ACT will fully address. In the case of at-home AP testing, the College Board has been loaning laptops to students who need them. While this won’t solve every problem, it’s possible students will be able to contact the testing organizations for tech assistance.

Moreover, while live proctoring every full-length exam seems incredibly complicated, the idea of using a 20-minute exam to verify students’ unproctored scores presents its own challenges we imagine may be flawed, let alone stressful for many students. There’s the high-stakes nature of that 20-minute proctored exam: students will be under a lot of pressure to perform as well as they did on the full exam, not only across a shorter period of time but also under the scrutiny of a proctor. What will students be asked to do within just 20 minutes to demonstrate their skill levels across 4-5 subject areas? What happens if ACT decides they’ve fallen short? And how will ACT and the College Board deal with the new security issues that are sure to arise? A lot of questions need to be answered before students will feel confident signing up for an at-home SAT/ACT.

Stay tuned as we hear more!

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About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

As one of the highest-performing tutors in ArborBridge’s history, Erin coaches tutors and develops tools and trainings to disrupt old habits and empower new strengths. With a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, Erin worked as a classroom teacher and student services director prior to joining ArborBridge in 2017. Her decade of success as an educator has prepared her to ensure that programs are tailored to individual students’ needs.

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