By now you have probably heard that the current coronavirus pandemic crisis is seriously affecting the administration of the ACT and SAT this spring. Of course, the pandemic is affecting other tests as well. Each spring, tons of middle schoolers take the ISEE or SSAT as part of their independent high school admissions process. The ongoing situation has also affected the administration of the high school entrance exams. However, there has been very little mentioned about the challenges to administering either test in the press at large. This is likely because the high school entrance exams are taken both by a smaller number of students each year and by a self-selecting group of students rather than the population as a whole. Read on to learn about the ISEE update and SSAT update, and what you need to know.
Normally, the SSAT is administered at independent high schools across the country one Saturday monthly from October through June. Eighth-grade students applying for admission the following autumn usually take the test in the fall or early winter. Seventh graders often take the spring test dates looking to try out the SSAT or get an early score. Many independent middle schools require seventh graders to take the SSAT during one of the spring test dates. This year, the SSAT organization (SSAT) has cancelled the June 13th test date, and the alternate test date, June 14th.
SSAT has left flex testing options open to families. Flex testing comes into play when a student is unable to sit for a test during a regular test weekend. The family of the student can work with SSAT to find an alternate test site and date. This is usually within a month of the original date. Flex testing generally occurs at private, third-party testing sites, by appointment.
For the cancelled June 2020 test date, SSAT has announced that families can flex into an alternate date and site through July 31st. However, it is very unlikely anyone will be able to use the flex option. Almost all for-profit testing centers across the nation are currently closed. SSAT also announced that students and their families cannot transfer a June test date registration to a fall date.
SSAT has not made any announcements about what their plans are for the October test date or beyond. The SSAT is generally a paper-based test. However, a small percentage of students have been able to take the SSAT for several years. Whether SSAT chooses to administer the test via computer, at schools, at test-centers, or remotely, has yet to be seen.
The ISEE update is following a different route. In contrast to the SSAT, Education Records Bureau (ERB), has offered the ISEE as a computer-based test for years. Historically, students have taken the ISEE at private, for-profit, testing centers. The ISEE is available seven days a week at the local testing center, usually located in an office building. The current crisis has closed these testing centers. This means that students are not able to take the ISEE anywhere in the country right now.
The ISEE is administered by appointment, rather than on a specific day across the country. Because of this, ERB limits the number of times a student can take the ISEE. Students can take the ISEE only once per testing period. A testing period is a four-month block. There are three testing periods each school year: August-November, December- March, and April-July.
Now that students are unable to take the test anywhere, ERB hatched a plan to coordinate with Prometric, the largest testing center company in the US. They will design and build a computer app for students to use to take the ISEE from home. Apparently, the app is ready to go, because ERB opened up a website for registrations. Unfortunately, the high volume of students attempting to register for the ISEE for this summer caused the registration website to meltdown. No one was able to actually register to take the ISEE at home. As such, ERB has indefinitely suspended the administration of the ISEE remotely, presumably until they and Prometric can figure out how to handle thousands of simultaneous registration attempts.
Both SSAT and ERB have a few weeks to figure out solutions for fall 2020 testing for students applying for admission to independent high schools beginning in the fall of 2021. They better figure it out, or risk independent schools following the lead of colleges and universities across the country that are experimenting with the concept of test-optional.