Students are traveling thousands of miles to take SAT amid COVID-19 cancellations
Doree Lewak | Sep 26 2020
It wasn’t easy nabbing a near-perfect 1590 on the SAT, but Matthew Chekhlov earned every point. After his original March 14 test date in Manhattan was called off because of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Stuyvesant High School senior was then shut out of full or canceled exams in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
In August, he finally traveled nine hours to Lancaster, Ohio, to take the SAT, which is used for college admissions.
“I had a very difficult time. The test was canceled every time I knocked on the door,” said the 16-year-old from Midtown, who endured roughly 20 cancellations for both the SAT and ACTs over the past six months.
According to Inside Higher Ed, of 402,000 US students registered to take the SATs in August, 178,600 were blocked because testing centers were closed or had limited capacity. “In New York, the state hardest hit by the pandemic, a mere 15 of their 203 sites are open.”
So students from New York City are traveling as far as Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Arizona and Maine, according to Chris Rim, the founder of the education and college consulting firm Command Education, who added: “It’s crazy.”
And just getting there doesn’t mean you actually get to take the test. A couple of months ago, Chekhlov set out for Maryland, only to be notified en route that the exam was off. One Dalton student flew to Maine early in the summer and found out the SAT was canceled 30 minutes before it was to begin. She still hasn’t taken it and, though she hopes to attend the Wharton School at Penn, her education consultant Rim said the Ivy institution is test-optional, not test-blind: “She will have a disadvantage not having the exam.”
Another of Rim’s students flew to “the middle of nowhere in Montana” for the August test because “there was nothing here, nothing on the East Coast at all.”
Both ACT and the College Board, which oversees the SAT, told The Post that individual testing sites determine cancellations, following CDC, local and state guidelines.
“That’s what’s caused some of the eleventh hour decisions and gaffes in communication,” said ACT chief marketing officer John Wannemacher.
Although more than half of US colleges reportedly aren’t requiring a standardized test for admissions, Amanda Uhry, founder of Manhattan Private School Advisors, still calls the situation “a nightmare. How do you get into Dartmouth [without a SAT score]? You look like a nice person?”
She lamented that the test can’t be taken remotely. “Let the kids take it at home. I know there’s a lot of cheating, but it’s still better than no test — especially if they have no grades from last semester.”
A rep for the College Board told The Post: “We have asked colleges to extend deadlines for receiving test scores and to equally consider students for admission who are unable to take the test due to COVID-19.”
And while not all students have the option of travel, Chekhlov was fortunate. “After acing the SHSAT, Matthew was determined to take his SAT admissions test and let nothing stop him. His score is the light at the end of the testing tunnel,” said Frances Kweller, founder of Kweller Prep tutoring in Queens, who has tutored Chekhlov since he was in seventh grade.
One Forest Hills moms said her daughter’s scheduled SAT tests were canceled every month from March to August, and the high school senior finally drove upstate to Auburn, seven hours away, to take it. The teen, who had been cracking a score of 1500 on practice tests, was stopped by a state trooper en route — and was so flustered by that experience and the “crappy hotel room,” her mom said, that she got a 1420. “She won’t get into Harvard with that. It would have been great if she got that 1500.”
Originally published in the New York Post on Sep 26, 2020.