SAT testing continues this spring: How testing sites are adapting to COVID restrictions

CHERRY HILL, N.J. – In a dose of pre-COVID-19 normalcy, the SATs will go on this spring in pandemic or in health.

Most public school districts make daily decisions on whether hybrid cohorts head into school buildings or conduct remote learning.

But the College Board test, an old-fashioned timed, paper-and-pencil assessment, will continue to be administered in person.

SAT sites, often hosted by high schools, are working to update exam security and COVID-19 safety protocols to accommodate hundreds of expected students in the region registered for mid-March testing.

“It looks different this year, and it should,” said Kayla Berry, test center coordinator for Washington Township High School in New Jersey.

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By Feb. 10, Berry had 150 students registered to take the test at Washington Township High School. The school has the capacity for 500, with 12 students to a classroom, plus the proctor. She expects a boost in registration after the deadline.

In the meantime, she’s aligning pandemic guidelines of the College Board, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Jersey Department of Health to guide logistics for the March test day.

“They all have to mesh together for this to work,” Berry explained.

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Why are the SATs going on?

Berry admits she was surprised to find SATs would go on. Her districts also hosted 400 students for the SAT in the fall.

New Jersey Department of Education recently decided to delay all state assessments, including the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment, until some time after April 5.

Berry’s district did mull closing its testing site to students from outside Washington Township. The high school operates on a hybrid cohort schedule with students attending in-person classes for four hours a day twice a week. The rest of the week is remote learning.

In the past, half to one-third of students testing in its classrooms have not attended the high school. Washington Township administration opted to remain a test host. It’s one of the largest sites in the region, Berry said.

The College Board, which owns and oversees the exam many colleges use for admissions, has directed school hosts to “make their own decisions about the test and safety standards based on local restrictions,” according to its website.

Hosts can close sites up to the day of testing, the College Board said. On the eve of Friday’s regular registration deadline, no closures were posted to the College Board closures page.

“A lot of students still feel pressure to take the test,” Berry said.

While some colleges are moving away from requiring standardized assessments in admissions qualification, Berry said some students still apply to schools requiring the test.

She doesn’t see the SATs going away completely. It’s a standard and a rite of passage, Berry said.

And for high school juniors this year, there could be a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. If education begins to normalize in the next year, Berry said her students want to be ready to move on to college and not rush to take an exam.

Masks, proper ventilation, physical barriers all ‘would be helpful’

Students taking the test Gloucester County Institute of Technology in New Jersey could expect a desk in large spaces, like media centers and cafeterias, according to Christine Datz, director of student personal services.

The host location is expecting 100 students with a capacity of 150, she said.

Test-takers in Cherry Hill may be set up in gymnasiums, according to Cherry Hill Public Schools spokeswoman Barbara Wilson, who noted every one of the 200 Cherry Hill East and West high school seats for the March test is full.

Desks should be six feet apart, Berry said. And students must wear a mask.

Students will also be asked at check-in to quickly lower their masks to verify their identity and to make sure test aids aren’t tucked inside the mask, Berry said.

Rowan Medicine’s Dr. Kanad Mukherjee says social distancing during the test and full compliance mask-wearing should be sufficient protection, especially if testing areas have good ventilation, including high ceilings, properly filtering HVAC systems and circulating outside air into the indoor workspaces.

“Combining that with physical barriers would be helpful,” said Mukherjee, who oversees Rowan Medicine’s vaccination program.

Students must also certify their COVID-19 risk by signing a pledge to wear their masks and certifying they have not traveled to certain areas. Their temperatures will be taken upon entry to the building, Berry said.

Expect usual breaks between test sections. But, expect bathroom breaks to move slowly. Berry says only two people will be permitted inside each restroom at a time. There may be additional rules on when and where to consume snacks, she said.

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How to register for college assessment testing

Need to take the SAT, PSAT, or other College Board exams? Register by visiting https://www.collegeboard.org.

The next SAT will be administered on March 13. The registration deadline was Friday, but late online registration ends March 2.

Not ready to take it in March? Take the SAT on May 8 and June 5.

Follow reporter Carly Q. Romalino on Twitter: @CarlyQRomalino

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