U.S.A. (CNN) (07/20/20)— Ellen Willson Hoover drove her high school daughter nearly two hours across state lines this weekend so that she could take the ACT college admissions test.
The family lives in North Carolina, but the only testing center with an available spot was in South Carolina. So the pair packed the family car, made the road trip and even spent the night in a hotel so her daughter would be well rested on test day.
But when they arrived at the testing center on Saturday, they found a note posted on the door informing them, like other shocked families across the United States, that the test was canceled.
“The ACT scheduled for today (7/18) has been CANCELED,” the sign read. “ACT should have contacted you. We are very sorry if you were not notified.”
Hoover said they didn’t receive a phone call, email, or text message informing them of the cancellation, and the list of canceled or rescheduled tests on ACT’s website wasn’t updated until later that day. ACT did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
But on its website, the testing company said some tests are being canceled or rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There were instances in which a test center had to reduce their capacity due to social distancing guidelines determined by the CDC or state or local officials and it caused some students to be displaced,” ACT says on its website’s Covid-19 information page. “This decision was not made lightly, and ACT apologizes for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
The company also updated students and parents on social media last week, tweeting: “With ongoing COVID-19 changes and closures, please know there is a chance that your test center may close between now and test day.”
Hoover said she understood the need to keep students safe, but felt that ACT should have given families more notice.
“Even with a list, why is ACT expecting us to scour websites every day for cancellations?” Hoover told CNN. “They have all of our information and could easily do a mass communication to anyone affected.”
The Hoovers are not alone as parents across the country are voicing their concerns and frustration over this weekend’s canceled tests. Some are also worried that it’s giving privileged students an undue advantage.
Rana El Kaliouby, another mom of a student whose test was canceled without warning on Saturday, said the situation has left her “stressed, enraged, and feeling helpless.”
This is the third time El Kaliouby’s daughter, 17-year-old rising senior Jana Amin, has prepared to take the ACT, only for it to be canceled, she said.
The first two times, once in April and again in June, they received an email two weeks beforehand informing them of the cancellations.
This time, the two drove nearly six hours from Massachusetts to New York City for the only available testing location. But when they arrived at the testing center, they too saw a sign announcing the cancellation.
El Kaliouby said at least 10 other families were there with them. “We routinely checked the portal. The test seemed to be on, and it still shows that the test is on. We also received no email notifications from ACT. Zilch,” El Kaliouby told CNN. “I know and understand how challenging it is to lead a business in the face of all this uncertainty, but how ACT is handling this is just unacceptable.”
El Kaliouby said every cancellation costs her family time and money. Fortunately, she can afford to make accommodations, but not every family can.
“I consider myself and Jana privileged,” El Kaliouby said. “I am in a position to take the day off work and book a hotel to spend overnight, not to mention the thousands of dollars I continue to spend on tutoring every time the test gets canceled and we need to ramp up tutoring again for the next test date.”
“Most families are not that privileged. This whole process is introducing so much bias and inequity into a college application process that is already criticized for not providing equal opportunity.”
Some U.S. colleges and universities have already suspended ACT and SAT tests as an admission requirement until 2024, noting the burden that taking them has placed on students.
Still, many parents and students fear that not taking the test, even if it isn’t a requirement, could hurt their chances of getting accepted into a good school.
“Sadly, universities will not be able to tell the difference between a student who has studied hard over and over, and drove hundreds of miles to attempt to take the test, and those kids who didn’t even try. A no-score looks the same — it’s a no-score,” El Kaliouby said.
Other parents, and even some educators, are glad that schools have waived the test requirement, and say it should have been done long ago.
Suzy Furman, a private tutor in the Washington, DC, area who prepares students for the ACT test, said it has always been problematic.
“I think that ACT has been on thin ice, even before it started treating its customers so poorly for the past few months,” Furman told CNN. “Colleges are moving away from these tests. Not just because of the current pandemic situation, that’s obvious.”
But, she said, there’s a “bigger issue” with college admissions exams: “They have tended to favor the economically advantaged students. Ultimately, the only way to really balance it out will be to eliminate assessments like the SAT and the ACT.”
For now, parents are having to make their own decisions about whether or not their children should take the test, and the wrong choice could have a lasting impact.
Camille Brinson, a 16-year-old rising senior in Tennessee, is desperately trying to retake the ACT test to increase her chances of getting into her dream school.
“To go to my dream school, I just need to do a little better on my ACT and I feel confident I could do that now, but the only grade I’ve sent them so far is rather lousy and not a great example of my ability,” she told CNN. “Standardized testing is such a biased system and if colleges looked more at my grades and my extra-curriculars I would feel more than confident right now.”
Brinson and her family drove three hours through Tennessee on Saturday and even paid money for a hotel they ended up not needing because her ACT test was canceled.
Like other students, Brinson is not sure when ACT will offer another test near her, or if she’ll even be able to take it in time to bolster her college applications.
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