Testing giants ACT and College Board struggle amid covid-19 pandemic – The Washington Post

Both organizations, which are nonprofits essentially run like businesses, have had to cancel in-person administrations of their signature admissions tests during the pandemic. Facing the loss of millions of dollars in revenue, both promised online versions this fall if necessary. Meanwhile, students trying to register for future SAT and ACT tests ran into trouble online in recent days.

In Iowa City, ACT, Inc., chief executive Marten Roorda, who aggressively lobbied against the UC decision, is suddenly out of his job. The organization posted a news release on its website announcing Roorda’s departure without saying why he was leaving and introducing Janet Godwin, the chief operating officer who is a 30-year veteran at ACT, as interim chief executive.

ACT also announced that it was taking “a series of cost-cutting measures to enable it to continue to serve students into the future, despite the current negative business impact of covid-19.” And, it said, no one would get a raise next year while some fringe benefits would be reduced. “Further cost reductions are expected,” it said.

During Roorda’s tenure at ACT, the organization bought a number of other education organizations. As late as May 18, ACT announced the acquisition of ScootPad, a personalized adaptive learning platform. And in 2019, it purchased Mawi Learning, a company that produces professional development materials for teachers and curriculum for students in the field of social and emotional learning. In 2017, it announced that it had made a $10.5 million strategic investment in New Markets Venture Partners, an education-focused venture capital fund.

Ed Colby, ACT’s longtime senior director of media and public relations communications director, left his job in May. Reporters were told they could reach ACT using a generic public relations email address.

ACT has long paid its top executives well. In its fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2018 (the last year for which tax information is available), Roorda received a salary of $817,092 and additional compensation of $257,305, for a total of more than $1 million.

The College Board pays its chief executive, David Coleman, even more. For its fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2018, Coleman received $1,532,201 in W-2 reported compensation and $257,961 in estimated “other compensation,” according to the company’s 990 forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Meanwhile, many students who tried in recent days to log on to the College Board website to register for summer and fall SAT exams could not log on, or saw their Web pages freeze, or managed to register but found that their payments would not go through. They saw this notice from the College Board posted on its: “Unavailable Due to High Volume: We apologize but due to high traffic volume that URL is temporarily unavailable.”

College Board spokesman Zachary Goldberg said in an email: “To be clear: nothing crashed. Given the spring administrations lost to coronavirus, we are seeing very high interest in students wanting to register for the SAT. As a result, there is a greater volume than usual of students trying to register at the same time, leading to some delays online. … We appreciate students’ patience, and recommend they try again later if they are experiencing delays.”

He also said there were instances in which some students who were not part of the priority registration attempted to register for tests they are not eligible to take. Through June 3 at 8 p.m. Eastern, registration for August, September, and October will only be open to students in the class of 2020 or 2021 who don’t have an SAT score, and to students who are transferring their uncancelled June SAT or Subject Tests, he said.

Some students took to social media to complain, including one who wrote: “my credit card was charged for the august sat & i got a confirmation email but the website says that i have not completed my registration still and i did not receive my admissions ticket”

A student named Sydney Weaver tweeted: “you’ve never known heartbreak until you’ve had a breakdown over college board’s incompetence”

ACT had issues of its own. On Thursday, it released its initial list of June test sites but the 50-plus-page, single-spaced PDF listing more than 2,500 centers would not open online for many students. And some counselors reported that they knew of multiple additional test sites not on ACT’s list that had publicly announced they would also be closed.

On its website, ACT acknowledged the problems facing students trying to figure out where and when they could take the ACT tests. It said:

We understand the many frustrations and fears you are likely facing, including the uncertainty associated with potential closings of test centers administering the ACT. Please be assured the health and safety of students and testing staff is our top priority.

ACT is closely working with test site administrators and monitoring guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state government and local public health guidelines. We are preparing to support test centers who are cleared to administer the ACT on June 13, 2020.

ACT will notify students and announce test center closings and cancellations for the June 13 test date through email. As ACT and other agencies navigate ongoing developments, testing at any test center is subject to change at any time between now and June 13, 2020.

The College Board recently completed two weeks of online administration of Advanced Placement exams and said the vast majority of the 4.6 million exams taken over 10 days across 32 subjects were administered without problems. But thousands of students encountered problems submitting their answers on the digital platform.

AP exams usually take several hours but the College Board rushed into production 45-minute versions that could be given online during the pandemic, saying it was important for students because the scores can factor into college admissions decisions and students can receive college credit for high scores.

For the second week of testing, the College Board developed a workaround for students who could not submit answers digitally, sending an email address to which test answers could be sent. But some students said the email address didn’t work for them.

Saxon Kennedy, an 11th grade student at the Sagemont School, a private school in Weston, Fla., said she took an AP Language and Composition exam last week and couldn’t submit her answers because of a connection failure, so she sent them by email according to instructions received from the College Board. She assumed all was well but later received an email saying she had to take a makeup exam because of an error with her submission, though it did not say what the error was. After waiting four hours on the phone to speak to a customer service representative, she was told she had to retake the exam.

“I have spoken to friends who have also waited for hours before giving up on this,” she wrote. “Some were also shocked to find a similar email confirming their makeup test, after they thought they had successfully completed exams. For us, this is a disappointing failure on the part of College Board to accommodate us in basic ways.”

Asked about problems with email submission, Goldberg said, “There were no technical issues on the College Board side with the email submission process. We provided students who needed to use the email safeguard with instructions to submit their responses successfully. Any student who did not send score-able responses by email has the opportunity to take a makeup exam the first week of June. We encourage all students to review tips for testing in advance of their exams.”

Amid the problems, a small nonprofit organization known as FairTest, or the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said the number of visits to its test-optional list of schools was five times higher on May 29, 2020, as it was on the last Friday of May 2019. Interim executive director Bob Schaeffer said, “Clearly many high school students, their parents, counselors and other advocates are fed up with the testing company’s incompetence and are aggressively seeking colleges and universities that will treat them as ‘more than a score.’”

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