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College Board CEO on Coronavirus and SAT Testing

By Rick Hess — April 27, 2020 5 min read
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As families, educators, and community leaders wrestle with COVID-19, we’ll be trying to bring conversations to readers that will be helpful in confronting the challenge.

David Coleman is CEO of the College Board, which recently announced that spring and summer SATs have been canceled due to coronavirus. I reached out to David to find out what’s ahead for the SATs in light of the coronavirus. Here’s what he had to say.

Rick: First off, what exactly is going on with the SAT this year?

David: The College Board’s top priority is the well-being of the people we serve—students, parents, and educators. Right now, the scientific evidence and guidance from public-health officials has made clear it is not safe to gather students in one place. So we’ve canceled the May and June SAT administrations as well as school day administrations in states and districts. The simple reason is that there are things more important than tests.

But we will make sure every student has a shot at claiming their future and distinguishing themselves on the SAT. We give the SAT in two ways—through national administrations on the weekend and during the school day.

Starting in August, students will have the opportunity to take an SAT test on the weekend every month, if the public-health situation allows. That includes a new administration we are adding on September 26. We are planning to provide extra capacity so that every student who wants to test can do so and we will prioritize registration for students who were signed up to take the test but weren’t able to do so because of the coronavirus.

We also will offer the SAT in schools this fall to students who would have tested in school this spring. This accounts for 75 percent of all students who couldn’t test in the spring due to the virus. And the good news is that all states and large districts that participate in the School Day Program provide the SAT for free to all students.

Finally, in the unfortunate and unlikely circumstance that schools remain closed next fall, we will offer an online version of the SAT that students can take at home. Frankly, we hope that is not the case—students have already had to adapt to so much change—but we are prepared should it be.

Rick: Is it possible that some students won’t be able to take the SATs before they start applying for college?

David: Absolutely not. We are preparing to significantly expand our capacity so all students have the opportunity to take the SAT. With a weekend administration every month between August and December—including a new administration in September—and fall SAT School Day testing, we expect that every student in the class of 2021 will have the opportunity to take the SAT. Additionally, students who were registered for the June exam and rising seniors who do not have SAT scores will have early access to registration for the August, September, and October administrations. We know it is particularly important for these students to have the opportunity to sit for the SAT.

Rick: Are you concerned about lost instructional time affecting students’ scores in the future?

David: My concern is for the profound and broad sense of loss our students are facing. While that includes lost learning time, it of course also includes the loss of family and friends and the loss of important moments and milestones in their lives. I am particularly concerned about how this will impact our most vulnerable students and their families.

Rick: How do you ensure that scores from this spring are comparable to last spring when there were no instructional interruptions?

David: There is much that is fragile right now, but the SAT and what it stands for is not. It will remain a way for students to show their strengths and connect to college. One thing that makes the SAT or any other standardized test “standardized” is a process called equating, which makes sure that a score for a test taken on one date is equivalent to a score from another date, year after year. A student’s SAT score is based only on how they perform and is never affected by another student’s performance.

Rick: How would you advise colleges to count scores next year given the extenuating circumstances right now?

David: SAT scores will be valid and reliable this year as they are every year. But it has never been more important to consider the context in which students live and learn as in this unprecedented year. While all students will have the opportunity to take the SAT, the impact of the coronavirus on students varies vastly based on their circumstances. Those families who have been hit hardest are the ones with fewest resources. We fully support admissions officers at member colleges who have said that the circumstances of the public-health crisis will be taken into account when considering test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities in the coming year.

Rick: Will any of this complicate SAT prep for folks next year? Are there any resources that you’re providing to students who want to prep for SAT on their own?

David: We are so proud to have partnered with Khan Academy to provide free, personalized practice for the SAT over the past five years. Even when schools are closed, students can use Official SAT Practice to sharpen their skills. We encourage all students to visit Khan Academy’s website to take advantage of personalized learning tools, including full-length practice tests.

Rick: How has this challenge helped you think about the role of the College Board in terms of opportunity and the ability to fairly judge merit? Any big reflections that have come out of the adjustments?

David: That’s a great question. One silver lining in all of this has been the extraordinary display of resilience and a love of learning we have witnessed from students and teachers alike. They have been working all year to get ready for the AP exams, and when we asked them what we should do, over 90 percent of students told us they wanted to take the exam and show what they have learned. It’s our honor to offer students the opportunity to show the world just how much they care about their future. In a time that has often been dark and even frightening, these kids fill me with hope.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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