BOSTON — The coronavirus outbreak is forcing testing centers to cancel college admission exams, creating a backlog of students seeking to take the SAT or ACT.
Rising high school seniors are scrambling for seats at a limited number of test sites.
“It’s a total mess,” said Sheila Akbar, president and chief operating officer of Cambridge-based Signet Education, which provides test prep and college admissions consulting. “These are tests that rising seniors need to take for college admission, and they’ve had those opportunities taken away from them.”
The proctored tests were canceled from March through July amid the coronavirus shutdown. Now, many schools that traditionally host the SAT and ACT exams are either scaling back on the number of testing dates or not offering them at all.
Of 48 Massachusetts schools registered to host the exams, only a handful have scheduled tests this fall. Many seats are filled through December.
Akbar said the problems are compounded by a lack of communication from the testing companies and technical glitches that have prevented online registration.
“One student of mine was so worried she was planning to fly to Florida over the summer to take the test,” she added. “I told her that was a terrible idea.”
The College Board, which administers the SAT, acknowledges there is “limited testing capacity in certain areas due to public health restrictions and high demand.”
A College Board spokesman said local schools and testing centers make decisions about whether to give the SAT.
“While the College Board cannot directly control test center capacity and availability, we’re working to ensure as many students as possible are able to test safely,” the testing company said in a statement.
State education officials said they are working with testing companies, high schools, state colleges and other locations to open up more testing sites.
“We’ve been in discussions with state colleges that have the physical space to be testing centers,” said Bob LePage, the state’s assistant secretary for career education. “We’re hopeful that those talks are completed in time to be able offer students seats in September and October.”
Bunker Hill Community College has offered to host tests for Boston students. State officials are in talks with colleges on the North Shore, he said.
The College Board planned to offer an online SAT exam this year but backed away, citing technical and logistical issues.
The next round of SAT and ACT tests is scheduled for this month, but college preparatory agencies say those exams are unlikely given the ongoing restrictions.
Meagan Sousa of Georgetown-based Parker River Tutoring said a lack of testing options is also affecting students with academic and athletic scholarships, many of which require recipients to take either the SAT or ACT exams. Some students have been dropped from consideration for the coming school year because they haven’t taken the tests, she said.
While many colleges have gone test optional, meaning an SAT or ACT score isn’t required for admission, Sousa said they still use the tests for placement.
“It’s shortsighted for people to think that most schools are test optional,” Sousa said. “Test optional does not mean test blind.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.