Coronavirus, school closures bring major changes for testing season

Tests used for K-12 accountability, advanced course credit and college admissions are the latest segment of education to experience major repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures. Standardized assessments will likely be cancelled in most states this school year, high schoolers will take their Advanced Placement exams at home, and the SAT and ACT won’t be administered until at least June, among other changes.

Waiver flexibility for standardized state testing

California is among the long list of states that received anticipated and welcome news on March 20 when U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the department will grant a waiver to any state that is unable to assess its students due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 23, 46 states had decided to close their schools, with Virginia and Kansas already declaring they will not reopen until fall.

The federal waiver announcement aligns with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s leadership on the issue and his March 18 executive order to suspend, pending federal approval, this year’s statewide testing for the state’s 6.2 million public school students. “This is an unprecedented time, and our main focus is on supporting the mental and socioemotional health of students, while continuing to provide educational opportunities such as distance learning,” Gov. Newsom said.

A March 13 letter from the Education Coalition, of which CSBA is a part, to state policymakers and leaders called on the state to consider suspending testing this academic year. “We are concerned that students will not attain the necessary instructional time and may have difficulty overcoming mental health challenges and stress factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter reads.

It is not yet clear how the cancelation of the tests will impact the 2020 California School Dashboard, the system used not only to track assessment results but to hold local educational agencies accountable for student performance.

Advanced Placement exams will be online, at home

California high schoolers completed 793,695 Advanced Placement course exams in 2019, but those assessments will look a lot different this spring.

The College Board announced on March 20 that, to accommodate school closures, students will take a 45-minute online exam at home. “These solutions are meant to be as simple and lightweight as possible for both students and teachers — without creating additional burdens for school leaders during this time,” the organization said in a statement.

The College Board said colleges and universities support the decision to offer the shorter exam and will ensure students receive their earned credit.

While exams will be available via computer, tablet or smartphone, students will also be able to submit a photo of handwritten work. Because a lack of a device or high-speed internet access could prevent some low-income and rural students from participating, the College Board said it is working with partners to “invest so that these students have the tools and connectivity they need to review AP content online and take the exam.” Through a form on its website, the organization is asking students, parents, teachers and counselors to share information about students who need mobile technology or connectivity.

The full AP exam schedule and additional testing details will be available by April 3, as educator-led development committees are selecting the exam questions. In making its decision not to cancel the tests, the College Board cited its recent survey of 18,000 AP students, with 91 percent indicating they still wanted to complete their exams.

SAT and ACT cancel April and May tests

In response to the rapidly evolving pandemic and a growing number of cities and states issuing “stay at home” orders, the SAT and ACT will not be administered until June, at the earliest. While the assessments are available during different time periods throughout the year, spring is an important time in the testing cycle for high school juniors who are preparing to apply to college next fall.

ACT has rescheduled its April 4 national test date to June 13, while the College Board cancelled its May 2 SAT and SAT Subject Test administration, as well as its makeup exams for the March 14 administration (scheduled for March 28). The SAT’s next test is currently scheduled for June 6.

Students registered for the April 4 ACT test date will receive an email with instructions for free rescheduling to the June 13 or a future ACT national test date; they will not automatically be registered for a later test. Refunds are available for the May 2 SAT testing date, which includes international test sites.