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Talk of at-home SAT, ACT tests worries critics

Equity, access for low-income students lead the concerns.
Students soon could be taking the SAT and ACT tests at home. Critics have concerns. [Times file (2005)]
Students soon could be taking the SAT and ACT tests at home. Critics have concerns. [Times file (2005)]
Published Apr. 16, 2020

Plans to let high school students take their college entry exams at home via computer quickly raised red flags among educators who worry such a program would further exacerbate the divide between haves and have nots.

The College Board unveiled its effort midday Wednesday. The ACT followed later in the afternoon with a similar announcement.

Leaders for both organizations talked about how they would take steps against cheating through remote proctoring. They spoke of providing flexibility for students so they can get scores to help in their college application process, which could be disrupted during the coronavirus response.

And College Board officials took an added step of saying they would provide technology assistance to any student who needs it to test from home.

Related: More SAT tests to be offered in fall, including at home if needed

Bob Schaeffer, the Florida-based interim executive director of National Center for Fair & Open Testing (aka FairTest), had particular worries about how the model could hurt lower-income students.

“Will offering students the opportunity to take an exam at home further advantage children from privileged families, who already average significantly higher scores than their disadvantaged peers on admissions test?” Schaeffer, a contributor to the upcoming book The Scandal of Standardized Tests: Why We Need to Drop the SAT & ACT, wondered in an emailed statement.

He noted that many poorer teens do not have home computers, and access the internet primarily from their smart phones. If they have computers, those might be older models incompatible with the testing platform. And if they have internet connectivity, in many rural areas it can be inconsistent.

Beyond that, Schaeffer raised concerns for students who have legally protected accommodations beyond extra time, such as readers and extra time. And he suggested that the need for remote proctoring and cheating detection could create problems related to privacy and accuracy.

He further mentioned more technical testing matters, including score comparability between types of exams, and standardization of test taking sites.

“As always, FairTest believes that before any new form of standardized exam is introduced, it should undergo a rigorous independent review to demonstrate that it actually works as its promoters claim,” Schaeffer said. “We cannot rely on self-serving testing industry reports about validity and fairness.”

The test makers signaled their awareness of these concerns. They said they’re working to minimize troubles.

"We are working closely with our partners in higher education and relying on their guidance in the development of this new option to ensure that it will meet their needs for score integrity,” ACT CEO Marten Roorda said in a news statement.

Four years ago, such a move would not have been possible, said Jeremy Singer, College Board president. But the sophistication of remote proctoring has made the organization more confident it can work, he added.

And testing firms are cognizant of the individual students’ differing situations, added College Board chairman David Coleman. Life context matters, he said, and admission officers will be able to take that into consideration when reviewing applications.