Education

ACT cancellations causing issues for high school seniors

COVID-19 restrictions make finding test sites difficult, Iowa City company says

Maddie Marquardt and her mother, Jacki, are shown this week at their home in Coralville. Maddie Marquardt, a senior at L
Maddie Marquardt and her mother, Jacki, are shown this week at their home in Coralville. Maddie Marquardt, a senior at Liberty High School, has been trying for months to schedule an ACT college admissions test so she can complete her college and scholarship applications. She finally got an appointment for Sept. 19 — in Boone, 140 miles away. The tests are typically given in local high schools during the spring and summer, but those dates were canceled because of coronavirus restrictions. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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NORTH LIBERTY — The cancellations of ACT college placement exams during the coronavirus pandemic is creating problems and stress for a number of high school seniors, including Madeline Marquardt of Coralville

The Liberty High senior has been waiting to take the test for six months and finally learned this week she will be able to take the test Sept. 19 — in Boone, 140 miles from her home.

The test starts at 8 a.m. so she’ll have to leave at 5:30 a.m. or spend the night before at a hotel.

The soonest she could get a test date closer to home was Oct. 24, which is past the deadline for some college’s early admission and scholarship opportunities.

“It’s just super stressful,” Marquardt said this week.

Marquardt said she took the ACT last year but wanted to take it again, hoping to raise her score, since she’s applying to out-of-state private schools and for scholarships.

Marquardt, like hundreds of other high school students, had registered to take the ACT in April, but Iowa City-based ACT canceled that national testing date because of COVID-19 concerns and restrictions.

Marquardt tried to reschedule the test for June and July, but those dates, too, were canceled, with about two-weeks’ notice.

ACT opened additional testing dates for this fall — three days in September, four in October and one in December.

But when Marquardt tried to register for a fall date, the ACT site crashed. Marquardt and her mother spent nine hours July 27 trying to get a test time in the fall.

Tara DeSousa, a spokeswoman for ACT, said in an email that COVID-19 severely impacted the ability of testing centers — typically schools close to a student’s home — to offer the college admission tests this spring and summer.

Some of the students who registered for April tests were rescheduled in June and July, but the capacity at testing centers was limited, DeSousa said.

And even that limited testing was difficult, with ACT employees undertaking a manual search to make sure test sites and site administrators could comply with public health and social distancing requirements.

“If students and parents didn’t feel comfortable testing, they could request a refund of their registration fees,” DeSousa said. “There were cases where students experienced last-minute cancellations, and we regret that those occurred.

“We know that there was a breakdown in the communications process that led to some notifications to students not being processed as planned,” she said. “We are improving our processes and updating the technology needed to ensure this does not occur in September.”

Iowa’s three public universities in July said high school students could take the ACT for $80 at one of the universities, but the students’ scores would only be shared with the three universities and Iowa community colleges.

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Given the problems with students taking the ACT or SAT tests, nearly 700 U.S. colleges are offering the on-campus tests, according to Higher Education Partnerships in Austin, Minn.

The University of California regents in May voted to abandon the ACT and SAT exams as a requirement for admission. That same month, ACT announced cost-cutting measures, including voluntary retirements and reduction in hours and no raises for next year.

Comments: (319) 398-8372; alexandra.skores@thegazette.com

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