Test-optional or remote testing; which will it be?
COVID-19 forces colleges and testing agencies to adapt – and quickly.
In the wake of April and May ACT/SAT test cancellations, students across the country have shifted their preparation towards the June tests. In the short time since the April and May cancellations were announced, a number of colleges have issued temporary changes in testing policy to accommodate affected students. Schools on this list include Tufts, Boston University and Case Western for the class of 2021, and for the Georgia University system for the Summer and Fall 2020 semesters. If June arrives and students cannot yet safely gather for an in-person test, the College Board and ACT, Inc. may have no choice but to make their tests available for remote administration. Further delays (until August for the SAT or July or September for the ACT) will otherwise lead many more schools to suspend their SAT and ACT requirement for admissions.
We are maintaining a chart on our website that tracks COVID-19 related changes to school test policies so you can stay on top of this information. These schools suspending the testing requirement have all cited the COVID-19 test cancellations as the driving factor:
- Case Western Reserve: “In response to standardized test cancellations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Case Western Reserve University on Wednesday adopted a “test-optional” admissions policy for students entering in the fall of 2021.”
- Tufts: “In light of the extraordinary circumstances — brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic — that students are confronting as they complete this academic year, and the interrupted access to standardized tests around the globe this Spring…Tufts University is introducing a test-optional admissions policy for all undergraduate applicants for a 3-year period, beginning with applicants who apply for the Fall 2021 semester.”
- University System of Georgia: ”In light of the decision made by the College Board and ACT to suspend the availability of testing during the COVID-19 virus pandemic, prospective students applying for admission in fall 2020 will not be required to submit an ACT or SAT score.”
If students cannot take SATs and ACTs, these tests will cease to be relevant. Colleges typically rely upon standardized tests to make more informed admissions decisions, but with national access to these tests curtailed, schools will be forced to admit their classes without test scores. The stakes are high.
The testing agencies have an appropriate sense of urgency and are responding. The College Board is offering students the ability to take AP exams at home, rather than cancel the over-five-million tests scheduled for this spring. Similarly, ETS is allowing students to take the GRE at home starting this Friday.
The ACT, Inc., which has been administering computer-based tests to all international students since September 2018 and is slated to begin offering them to US students in September 2020, is particularly well-positioned to offer digital and remote testing, although we have not heard anything from them apart from test cancellations.
Challenges with remote testing
Remote testing has its own challenges, particularly in regards to test security and equity. On the positive side, technology offers some tools to address test security concerns. The ETS, for example, is using Proctor U, a service that uses remote proctors to observe the test administration through webcams just as an in-person proctor would inside a testing center. For the remote administration of the AP exams, College Board will also use “a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software, to protect the integrity of the exams.” While the remote proctors, pattern analysis, and plagiarism detection tools will certainly help, the potential for fraud is higher when students are taking these tests at home. Some bad actors will find creative ways to work around the security protocols. In these extraordinary times, given the risks that in-person testing may present, the testing agencies have to use every tool possible to address the elevated potential for fraud in order to protect the health and safety of our students.
The digital divide that disproportionately affects lower-income and rural students in this country remains a major concern, especially if remote testing becomes prevalent. Not every student has a laptop, desktop, tablet, or reliable internet connection. The College Board is getting creative and flexible for the remote APs this spring, allowing students to use many methods to complete and capture and submit tests for scoring, from tablets to mobile phones to photographing handwritten work. College Board officials are “working with partners…so that these students have the tools and connectivity they need to review AP content online and take the exam” and asking students or student advocates to reach out directly if they need mobile tools or help with connectivity.
If students cannot take the June SATs or ACTs in person, a remote option may be the best thing the testing agencies can offer. Just as colleges have pledged to accept the remotely administered AP exams as they would in-person tests, they will likely accept remotely administered SATs and ACTs in the same light for the sake of student health and safety.
These are extraordinary times, and testing agencies must make extraordinary leaps in test delivery, access, and security if they hope to remain relevant. What the College Board and ACT, Inc. do in the next few weeks may determine whether more schools decide to “test out” test-optional on a temporary or even more permanent basis. We anticipate more news both from the testing entities and the college as they all move to adapt and meet student needs.