Taking the SAT in Perilous Times

Saturday was a test day. Some tests actually went on.

March 16, 2020
(Istockphoto.com/Chainarong Prasertthai)

Saturday was a testing day for the SAT, but not everyone who signed up for the test took it.

Many high schools and colleges -- frequently the sites for people to take the SAT -- were closed. More than 100 testing locations were closed in California, according to an official College Board list. Only a minority of the sites listed alternate sites or plans for a makeup test. And the College Board said that some test cancellations might not be known until Saturday.

In Maine, the Portland school district closed and didn't report that to the College Board. Students showed up to take the SAT, found no one and eventually left, The Portland Press Herald reported.

Some school districts took to social media to communicate that they were closed for the SAT, or that they were open.

The Miami-Dade Schools tweeted that the SAT was on. And the school district received a flurry of critical comments on Twitter:

"No one concerned with mental impact and social anxiety will affect student performance?" one person wrote. Another added, "Really? Cram a bunch of kids in a room and pray nobody gets sick … no stress for the kids … it can wait."

How the College Board Handled the Date

It is of course difficult to give a test like the SAT. And the situation with the coronavirus developed during the week, with many schools and colleges closing. Many schools only made the decision to close on Friday.

The College Board webpage with information on test cancellations said, "Please know that we rely on test centers to notify us if they cannot test. In some instances, test centers may need to close on short notice and you may not be directly notified. If you think your test center may be closed, please check your test center’s website or local media for confirmation. Thank you for your understanding during this unique time."

A College Board spokeswoman said Friday that the organization didn't know how many people were scheduled to take the SAT on Saturday and didn't know how many would be able to. The statement said that the College Board would "be flexible, thoughtful, and collaborative when exploring how to support student learning and provide testing opportunities."

The coronavirus has already led the College Board to cancel testing in countries such as China, South Korea, Italy and Japan, among others.

(The ACT isn't scheduled to be given until April, so that organization has more time to make adjustments.)

One critic of the College Board, David Quinn, posted an open letter to the College Board's board which said in part, "This week’s truly awful and incomplete messaging and decision-making seemed to place 'taking the SAT' above containing the spreading virus. The College Board failed to continually update its website, and the poor communication to families stressed 'rescheduling exams' for the next date in the middle of a pandemic."

Share Article

Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

Back to Top