The notion of test-takers from as far away as New Jersey flooding into northwestern Pennsylvania proved to be concerning enough that Meadville Area Senior High School officials declined to host the Scholastic Aptitude Test that had been scheduled to take place at the school.

“We were the only test pretty much on the eastern seaboard,” guidance counselor Barry Anderson said Tuesday. “We didn’t think that would be a good start to our school year, to bring people from possibly areas where there’s more infections and move COVID.”

Anderson said that 186 people had registered to take the test Aug. 29. The group included students from all over Pennsylvania as well as several other states.

The test had been intended as a make-up date for one scheduled to take place at the high school in the spring that was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Anderson. 

When it became clear that many out-of-towners, whose local sites had similarly canceled spring exams, would be arriving in Meadville, Anderson said, school officials contacted the College Board about limiting test takers to Crawford County residents. College Board is the nonprofit that creates and administers the SAT.

They were told that such a restriction was not an option, Anderson said. 

Meadville’s cancellation was by no means an exception. Of the 78 Pennsylvania test locations listed on the College Board website on Tuesday, the same message was displayed for all but four: “This test center is closed. All registrations will be canceled and refunded.”

Unexpected closures have become more common this year as testing sites deal with reduced capacity due to social distancing requirements, according to Jaslee Carayol, media relations director for the College Board. Test centers must abide by local public health guidelines and decide on an individual basis whether or not to host the exam.

“Test centers that decide they need to close or reduce the number of students who can test due to social distancing restrictions should contact College Board as soon as possible so we can help ensure students are informed ahead of test day,” Carayol wrote in an email to the Tribune.

When exam sites like Meadville's decide to cancel, she wrote, College Board contacts test takers directly “though there may be a delay between the test center closing and the email notification.” 

Students are also encouraged to check test center websites on the morning of the test, Carayol added. Non-local test takers looking for Meadville Area Senior High School online might not have thought to check the Crawford Central School District Facebook page, however, where the cancellation was announced two days before the test. Notice of the cancellation had previously been posted to the district’s website on Aug. 24. 

The widespread nature of the cancellations and reminders to check a site’s status hours before metaphorically putting pencil to paper offered little consolation for several irate parents who expressed their frustration in response to the district’s Facebook announcement. 

“Why is this the first we’ve heard about it — less than 36 hours before the schedule (sic) test?” one wrote. “Why did neither my daughter or myself get an email or a phone call — from either the school OR College Board?”

Others expressed concerns about meeting deadlines for scholarships or college applications that required SAT scores.

Anderson pointed out that the high school does not have contact information for test takers and said that notifying people of the cancellation was the responsibility of College Board. As for scholarships and college admissions, he added that everyone is facing the same difficulties regarding test availability. The standard response has been to eliminate the requirement.

“Each of us counselors have had emails from over 300 colleges saying no SAT scores will be required this year,” Anderson said. With colleges focusing primarily on high school transcripts and recommendations, he predicted that many students will receive acceptances before they have a chance to take the SAT.

Students still hoping to take the SAT can check the College Board website for locations near them on Sept. 26 and Oct. 3, according to Carayol.

Anderson said the school is optimistic about hosting the SAT in October but cautioned that the pandemic adds uncertainty to any such plans, especially given the fact that the test is likely to draw students from a wide region. “There’s a chance it could get canceled again,” he said.   

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

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