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For much of Tuesday, ACT's registration page said, "Due to high demand, we've taken the MyACT registration page down in order to improve system performance. We're sorry for the inconvenience. Please check back on our website and social media channels for updates."

For a while, the website promised an update -- at 9:30 a.m. Central Time -- but no update appeared. ACT now says the site will be restored at 10 a.m. Central time today.

To ACT test takers, or would-be test takers, it wasn't just about inconvenience. Many said that it has become next to impossible to register for the ACT during this summer of the coronavirus pandemic. A parent wrote to Inside Higher Ed:

"Myself, and about 20,000 parents of 2021 seniors would like to see a story about the absolute disgrace of the ACT system. Some of us have upcoming seniors that have had tests cancelled, rescheduled, cancelled with no notice, no refund and absolutely NO help from the ACT system. Many colleges and universities will not require the ACT test for entry, but hundreds of schools do require them for any sort of merit scholarships. We have called and been on hold for hours, we have texted, we have emailed, we have tried every avenue possible to get some sort of resolution and EVERY single one of us is getting no response or help at all."

On Twitter, one father tweeted, "@ACT. You cancelled my son’s April, June, and July test dates. Now, at 8:30 a.m. on the first day Sept/Oct registration opens, your site is crashing and all Illinois test sites appear to be full. Your inability to adjust to the pandemic is disgraceful."

An ACT spokeswoman said via email, "Our plan was to notify those who were impacted by sites closing due to COVID-19 this summer, prior to rolling out to the general public. Unfortunately, the soft launch date was shared by some via social media, creating 4x our traditional registration volume and degrading the system performance of our site. We know students are in need of scores and we are working hard to accommodate the extreme demand for seats in this unknown environment. We’ve added three new national test dates to help with capacity and are looking into other creative ways to increase capacity for the fall. In terms of the registration system, we are working diligently to improve the experience for all users, and have since taken the page down to improve system performance. If students have been impacted by summer testing cancellations, they will receive an email from us with further instructions. Additionally, we’ll provide a status update on our website and social channels at noon central tomorrow (July 29) for all users."

She added, "In general, COVID-19 severely impacted testing centers’ capacity for spring and summer test dates. We rescheduled our planned April test date to June, and due to the demand and adherence to local and public health guidelines and social distancing requirements, the June and July test dates operated at limited capacity (i.e. limited seats for test-takers). Our teams performed a massive manual outreach campaign to thousands of test site administrators to better understand which sites were open and prepared to administer the test in a COVID-19 environment in line with local public health guidelines, knowing that conditions could change quickly in certain locations where the virus was surging. If a site could not follow the recommended guidelines or didn’t feel comfortable testing students, they were cancelled. If students and parents didn’t feel comfortable testing, they could request a refund of their registration fees. There were cases where students experienced last-minute cancellations, and we regret that those occurred. We know there was a breakdown in the communications process that led to some notifications to students not being processed as planned. We are improving our processes and updating the technology needed to ensure this does not occur in September."

For the ACT, the registration woes are somewhat similar to what happened at the College Board in May.

Pressure to Take the Test

The pandemic forced the cancellation of some test dates for the SAT and the ACT. While both the College Board and ACT have added more dates, students generally want early dates so they could take the exam more than once.

The ACT did not have luck on the last test date, July 18.

Some students showed up to take the ACT and found that their testing centers were closed. And other students took the test -- and found out they were taking it with test takers who had COVID-19.

An ACT statement on the July 18 testing called it "an unfortunate situation" and said it was investigating:

"We are truly sorry that this happened, and we will do everything we can to provide solutions to students affected by this situation, including offering a makeup test date where we can. Our top priority is to provide testing opportunities for all who wish to pursue a path to college and career. We know we have work to do to earn back trust and provide a positive experience for all who engage with us."

"Based on the information we have available, we know that more than 88,000 students successfully tested at more than 1,100 sites on July 18, while adhering to COVID-19 public health guidelines and social distancing guidelines and procedures for the health and safety of examinees. Around 1,400 examinees (at approximately 21 sites) were not able to test. We know that some sites canceled up until late Friday night, including some we were unaware of, resulting in unprocessed communications to students," said a statement from ACT.

Two students who did take the ACT in Oklahoma had COVID-19, KOKH News reported.

Neither student was symptomatic when taking the ACT, but they could have been contagious. "According to room assignment, it's likely that you or your child were within the area of one or both of these students for up to 15 minutes," ACT officials said in a letter to students and parents.

The ACT recommends, but does not require, test takers to wear a face mask.

"As part of ACT’s test center social distancing guidelines, students and monitors were asked to complete a series of COVID-19 symptom and travel screening questions, instructed to practice social distancing guidelines while on campus, and it was recommended that masks be worn by all," an ACT statement to KOKH News said. "Test centers also used multiple rooms and floors within their buildings to provide additional physical distance between examinees. Test center staff can remove students from the test center if they are reporting symptoms or if they’re non-compliant with these policies. At the time of the test, neither of the students indicated they were experiencing symptoms or had traveled outside of Edmond. Within our communication to students who tested at Edmond North High School, we referred them to the current [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines which recommend self-quarantining for 14 days after any type of exposure to the virus. We continue to require test centers to abide by the COVID-19-related policies for the health and safety of all test-takers and staff, and expect these requirements to carry on into the fall test dates. If CDC recommendations change, we will adapt our policies to comply with those guidelines."

Stepping Back?

With so many problems for test takers, some colleges administrators are saying that going test optional, as most colleges have done, is not enough. Colleges should discourage standardized tests in admissions, they say.

"Please don't test. You don't need an SAT or an ACT," Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost of enrollment management at Oregon State University and a long-standing critic of standardized testing, wrote recently on his blog: "Last night news broke that two students in Edmond, Oklahoma had tested positive for Coronavirus after taking an ACT. It doesn't mean they contracted the virus there. It doesn't even mean they necessarily exposed other students who took the test, although both are possible. It demonstrates that you can and should limit your social contact whenever you can, and that means not sitting in a testing center for a whole afternoon. Don't take risks you don't need to."

But at Purdue University, which has gone test optional, officials are encouraging students to take the test. On its website it says, "For Spring, Summer, and Fall 2021, Purdue is test flexible. This means that if a student can take an SAT or ACT, we prefer they do so. However, we recognize that possible cancellations and postponement of national standardized tests due to pandemic restrictions may be impacting students’ applications. With that in mind, we will move forward and review any application from a student who is unable to take a standardized test."

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