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How COVID-19 is affecting SAT and ACT testing

Now students across the country are seeing their college application plans blown up by COVID-19.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As if applying to college isn’t stressful enough, right?

Now students across the country are seeing their college application plans blown up by COVID-19.

One of the most stressful parts of the process is taking the SAT and ACT.

Strawberry Crest High School student Saketh Damera says he’s already taken the SAT three times.

“One of the most stressful times of my life. Every single week, a practice test for three or four hours. Going over the practice tests, figuring out why I got every single question wrong. Studying that concept. Going back and doing it again on another practice test,” said Saketh.

Now, he and his classmate Joel Kallarackal say they consider themselves lucky; they got to take their tests before COVID-19 forced SAT and ACT exams in March, April and May to get canceled.

“I know a lot of people who – they didn’t get the score they wanted or something, and now they’re worried because they don’t know if their SAT is going to get canceled, rescheduled,” said Joel.

Both the SAT and ACT are adding more makeup test dates.

The ACT is planning to start testing again on June 13.

SAT testing starts back up Aug. 29.

Across the country, some schools are making SAT and ACT score submissions optional for applicants.

The University of California originally suspended SAT and ACT requirements because of COVID-19 in March. Now the university is expanding that suspension through 2024.

The university plans to create its own test in the future.

But we just haven’t seen anything like that in Florida.

In fact, individual public universities and colleges in Florida can’t make that decision.

Any changes to testing requirements would have to come from the State University System of Florida Board of Governors.

For now, that board isn’t planning to even talk about making those changes.

Instead, the board’s spokesperson said they’ve “advised universities to extend the submission deadlines to submit the required scores for admission.”

The Board of Governors turned down 10 Investigates’ interview request.

“What we’re hoping happens with our colleges and universities is that they take an empathetic view with our students, going into next year as well,” said Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram. “I think tests should always be redefined. I think we should always look to move forward. And if this is the right time to kind of look at that, then we’re all for it.” Minimum SAT or ACT test score requirements are written into Florida law for students to qualify for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program – something Joel says is problematic.

“There are a lot of communities where technology isn’t as accessible and that can really affect how much someone can prepare for something like the SAT,” said Joel.

Speaking of access to technology, here’s a big change: Because of COVID-19, the ACT is planning to offer online testing starting in the fall.

The SAT says it’ll offer digital testing too if, for some reason, schools don’t open back up in the fall.

Joel says it’s unfair that he would have to compete with students who might be tempted to use outside resources like their phone, their parents or their smart friend.

“There’s obviously going to be people that are going to find a loophole to try and cheat on the test,” said Joel. “That means your higher score means less.”

But Saketh says he wants to see online SAT and ACT testing become an option, no matter what happens with COVID-19.

“Online SATs would certainly remove a lot of the test anxiety that goes with taking a standardized test,” said Saketh. “And you don’t really have the opportunity to go – if you were to take it online – go on your phone and search something up. You would just be losing time. You might lose out on a question or two.”

So, how could cheating be prevented?

The College Board, which administers the SAT, says on test day, students will have to verify their identifies and confirm the work they submitted is their own.

Their answers “will be evaluated using a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software and post-administration analytics.”

This story is the latest installment in our series "What's Brewing?" It's investigative reporter Jenna Bourne's homemade deep dive into issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to check out the series and subscribe to our new YouTube channel: The Deeper Dive.

Welcome to The Deeper Dive: Tampa Bay's home for bold, longer-form stories. News shouldn't be boring. It should give clear insights to a better life. We know...

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