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College plans, testing on hold for some Long Island juniors

Ryan Padala, a junior at Garden City High School, talks about how COVID-19 has affected his plans for taking the SATs. Credit: Newsday staff

Kiara Quamina, 17, recalls crying if she had to miss a day of school as a kid.

“I love school,” Quamina said as she wrapped up a day of e-learning Thursday. “I invest all of my time into my studies because I genuinely enjoy learning.”

But remote learning has been a difficult transition for Quamina, a junior at Baldwin High School who yearns to participate in lively classroom discussions again and who feels her plans for college have been threatened with the cancellation of SAT and ACT exams through May.

“We’ve been training for this year, the hardest and most important academic year of our lives, since forever, and now all of our scores that matter for college are going to be affected,” Quamina said.

With the coronavirus pandemic causing schools to shut down and state testing to pause, some Long Island high school juniors are urging higher education institutions to adopt test-optional policies because of the cancellation of SAT and ACT tests.

“We are definitely getting questions and concerns around the uncertainty,” said Tim Casale, guidance counselor at Garden City High School.

With the March and May SAT exams canceled, juniors have one more opportunity this academic year to take the test — on June 6.

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“After all my sessions with tutors in math and English, I felt really prepared for the March 14 test, like I was sure I’d do well on it, but then it got postponed and now it just feels more stressful,” said Patrick Dalton, 17, a junior at Bethpage High School.

The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, said in a statement about the June exam that it “will continue to assess its status, with the health and safety of students and educators as our top priority.” In addition, ACT, the organization responsible for the exam in its name, moved its April 4 test to June 13.

Student Voice, a nonprofit student-run organization, started last week the #TestOptionalNow campaign, a national petition urging colleges to adopt test-optional policies after the cancellation of exams.

“Instead of having three or four chances to keep improving our scores, we might only have one shot,” said Michael Haass, 17, a junior at Garden City High School. “It would just be best to make our class test-optional.”

More than 1,000 four-year institutions have moved in recent years to test-optional policies as the exams have been criticized for being faulty indicators of college success. A study published in the Educational Researcher journal in January found that high school GPAs predict college graduation rates five times more accurately than ACT scores.

About 2 million students take the SAT exams every year. They are often advised to take the test in the spring of their junior year and in the fall of senior year, before applying to college.

“This is an already stressful time and now on top of that, kids are starting to feel like, ‘My parents wasted all this money,’ ” on private tutors and books to help students practice for the exam, said Kathleen Gagliardi, school counselor at Bethpage High School. “It’s a lot of stress. We’re talking about 16- and 17-year-old kids.”

Julie Murphy, 17, a junior at Garden City High School, said she committed an hour every Sunday with a tutor as well as several four-hour practice tests in preparation.

The College Board, which also administers AP tests, announced recently that the traditional in-person exams will be replaced this year with 45-minute online exams, another curveball for students preparing for college.

“The biggest thing we are trying to do is serve as a sounding board so at least they have a connection to the school,” Casale said. He added that the district administrators have been in touch with state Board of Regents regarding the issue.

Juniors, he said, “definitely understand that this isn’t a Garden City problem or a New York problem. That this is a problem on a very large scale.”

Knowing it's a global problem "is the most frustrating part, because it's out of my hands, but it’s also the most comforting part, because of the fact that it’s not personal," said Ryan Padala, 16, a junior at Garden City High School.

Meanwhile, colleges and universities have given students the option to take a pass/fail grade as opposed to a letter grade for some courses due to the move to remote learning. At the high school level, though, decisions on grades and GPA have not yet been addressed, Casale said.

“What our administration has done is not get too far ahead of ourselves,” he said. “The grades are not something that are being addressed. We have not made decisions on that yet. We are looking to see how that evolves.”

Quamina said she hopes colleges are understanding when reviewing scores for the Class of 2021.

"It’s not only a stressful time in terms of grades and scores, but it’s stressful mentally to have to think about all these things," she said. "I hope college leaders send out clear-cut statements about what’s going to happen so that we can all move forward with a better idea of what we can do to get back on track."

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