The College Board says it is preparing to offer digital versions of the SAT test in students’ homes later this year, “in the unlikely event” that schools remain closed through the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will be ready if we have to be,” said David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, which oversees the widely-used SAT college-entrance exam as well as the Advanced Placement (AP) program, during an online press briefing on Wednesday.
The announcement came a breath after several others: Coleman shared that the College Board was canceling its next scheduled SAT test, on June 6 (it had already canceled the assessment scheduled for May 2), and that the SAT School Day test, which is typically made available for free to students in the spring but was canceled this year, would be administered instead in the fall.
“We’re at a moment where education has been entirely disrupted,” Coleman said, later adding that “there are things more important than tests. Our top priority is the health and well being of students.”
The College Board has been developing a digital offering of its SAT test for five years, Coleman said, and has piloted the online exam with “tens of thousands of students” over the last year. He said he is confident that the digital version of the SAT is as sound an assessment as the traditional one.
But offering a digital SAT to students from their homes raises the tough question of how to prevent cheating.
Jeremy Singer, who is president of the College Board and heads up the nonprofit’s embrace of technology and innovation, said the organization has been looking at this issue very closely and is confident in its ability to administer the at-home test securely, should that be necessary in the fall.
“If this was four years ago, we would not make this commitment because the technology was not there,” Singer said during the briefing.
The College Board plans to use remote proctoring to administer the at-home test. That’s a different approach than what the organization is taking to make its AP exams available at home in May. In that case, tests will be open book-style and shortened from three hours to just 45 minutes.
“Remote proctoring is not a new field, and the sophistication continues to evolve,” Singer said. “We feel that now it’s a point where the level of sophistication … could ensure the integrity and security of administration.”
From a student’s perspective, Singer described the at-home testing experience like this: The student sits down in front of their computer, at home, and the software locks down every other application and browser outside the testing window. The camera and microphone on the computer are turned on, and are able to detect movements in the room, to make sure that no parent or sibling is coming in to offer assistance on exam questions. Then the student proceeds with the assessment.
This all would happen, Singer adds, after each student has completed a pre-test under the same conditions, using the same software, and with a confirmed account, allowing students to reach out to staff and resolve any technical issues that arise.
And Coleman noted that 73 of his full-time staff at the College Board have shifted their responsibilities so they are now focused on working with students who lack the necessary hardware and internet access to get what they need to take tests at home. Making the SAT accessible to all students, including and especially low-income students, is a priority, Coleman said.
If schools do reopen their doors in the fall—a much more likely scenario, Coleman believes—the College Board will administer the SAT once every month from August through December, with a new date being added in September to make up for the canceled tests this spring. The exact dates are still being finalized, but will likely be announced in the next few weeks, according to Priscilla Rodriguez, the College Board’s vice president for college-readiness assessments.
Rodriguez estimates that one million first-time SAT takers in the class of 2021—current high school juniors—were unable to take the SAT this spring due to widespread coronavirus closures. Approximately 75 percent of those students (about 777,000) would have taken the test on SAT School Day, when it is made available and administered for free. This is especially important for low-income students, for whom the testing fee may be prohibitive and be the difference between attending college and not.
That scale, said Rodriguez, “is why it’s so important to continue to have the partnerships we have with districts and states. … to continue to bring [the School Day test] to students as soon as it’s safe to do so.”