It's Time for the SAT and ACT to Be Completely Online

The current crisis shows why the tests should be online, writes David Benjamin Gruenbaum.

April 6, 2020
 
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On April 1, the University of California system announced that it was suspending the SAT/ACT requirement for fall 2021 admissions (affecting mainly current juniors in high school). In a sense, the UC system is moving to an optional system: students can still submit their SAT/ACT scores if they take the test, which could impact their eligibility and scholarship possibilities.

Over the last few years, other colleges have decided to make the SAT/ACT optional, and recently other colleges like Tufts and Case Western Universities have also gone SAT/ACT optional for fall 2021 admissions.

Coronavirus has really made a mess of the normal testing process. Many test sites decided not to hold the March SAT, and now the ACT has canceled the April ACT and the College Board has canceled the May SAT.

At the moment, the June and July tests are still on. Both companies would obviously prefer not to cancel those test dates, but they need to wait a little longer to find out when pandemic restrictions will be lifted.

I run a tutoring company, Ahead of the Class, in Santa Rosa, Calif. I specialize in school subject tutoring and SAT/ACT preparation, and I run an academy for bright sixth through ninth graders. Over the years, I have given many live online classes. Recently, because of coronavirus, I have shifted all of my classes and private tutoring online.

Administering the SAT and ACT online is a much larger task. The biggest issue is security, which I covered in an Inside High Ed column in June 2019. For example, it is hard for me to believe that even after the college admissions scandal, the College Board and ACT have continued to use local high school administrators and teachers to run such important tests, some with barely any experience, instead of relying on full-time trained employees.

But, I believe, that both the “how to administer the SAT and ACT” issue and the security issue can be solved by moving the SAT and ACT online. In fact, the College Board has already made the decision to run the Advanced Placement tests online this spring. This is valuable experience that should translate into a better process for the bigger College Board test, the SAT. Also, by putting their tests online, it should be easier for both the College Board and the ACT to run everything with just their own employees, thereby eliminating security risks that could come from utilizing outside help.

In addition, who knows how many months this current coronavirus mess will last? Or, what if coronavirus comes back later in the year? By running their tests online, the College Board and the ACT can take away the miserable situation of continually having to cancel tests.

In fact, if the College Board and ACT can work hard to develop a good secure online testing system, then we could all come out of this ahead. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if high school students could take the SAT or ACT as often as they wanted at times that fit their schedules?

There is also the problem of low-income students not having the computers they need to take an online SAT or ACT. The solution is simple: the College Board and ACT should buy the laptops necessary and work with schools to get these computers to students who need them. In my area, schools have already taken the lead with distance learning and bought Chromebooks that students can borrow.

Some people say that we should drop the SAT and ACT altogether. Are you kidding me? Relying solely on the completely subjective high school grading system is a very bad idea. We need, and have always needed, an across-the-board objective, comparative test. Hence, the SAT and ACT.

I can’t tell you all of the horror stories I have heard over the years about nonsensical grading systems. My favorite one involves some of my high school students who told me that they never had to study because when it came time to apply to college, their principal changed everyone’s grades to straight A’s for the entire school!

Or what about the new trend of “retaking”: Don’t do well on a test in high school? You can just retake it over and the new great score will replace the old horrible one. (No wonder GPAs are so inflated!)

Many other groups feel strongly about keeping the SAT and ACT. In fact, earlier this year, the University of California faculty released a study that says that “standardized exams remain good predictors of students’ success at UC at a time when grades in high schools make it harder to choose potential university freshmen.”

Some have told me that the College Board and the ACT will never take to my idea of administering the SAT and ACT online because it’s too much work. I’m not worried: I’ve been here before. In 2001, the University of California system wanted to drop the SAT. I came up with a better idea -- creating a new SAT. It took a lot of work (convincing the UC regents, writing letters to the College Board, etc.), but eventually it happened!

So, do us all a favor and get going, College Board and ACT: start online testing soon!

Bio

David Benjamin Gruenbaum, together with his wife, Heather, owns the private education company Ahead of the Class. Gruenbaum has personally instructed over 8,000 students from all over the world.

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