Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, educational systems across the country have been in flux. Not only are most students studying remotely, but for those who need to take high-stakes tests, including college admissions tests and professional qualifying exams, the situation is even more fraught and confusing. In many cases, tests – like school – have moved online, but in other cases everything is on hold, and the long-term impact on both higher education culture and in the professions could be profound.
Testing Online: When The Easy Part Is Hard
One of the biggest changes to impact testing since the COVID-19 pandemic is the pivot to online prep and test administration, and the change hasn’t been easy. After all, test prep has long been available online, with students studying for the GATE from home, signing up for SAT and ACT prep, and much more, but we don’t administer high-stakes tests online because of the risk of cheating. COVID has forced testing companies to reckon with relative risks: that of cheating versus spreading infection, and overall the answer has been obvious.
By and large, major test providers, including the College Board, which administers the SATs, have opted to develop at-home testing solutions, and are prepared to make them available while the virus risk persists. Though these administrators have had to cancel a number of earlier test dates while they found solutions to these new challenges, they’ve also instituted increased in-school testing opportunities to make up for those cancellations and minimize student density for those who do elect to take in-school tests.
Career Exam Considerations: Life On Hold
Planning online testing for high school students, while challenging, has been a unique challenge; students need to take the tests to go on to college, but if they do cheat on them, they’re unlikely to succeed in their future studies. They would only be cheating themselves, as the saying goes.
Those who administer career qualification exams, however, face a more pressing set of concerns because those who pass them will go on to perform major public facing services, working as accountants, lawyers, doctors, and in other critical fields. Given the high-stakes nature of these tests, many have been reticent to shift them online. So, what does that mean for up and coming professionals? It depends on the industry.
In the accounting field, state accountancy boards and NASBA have persisted in only administering 2020 CPA exams in person, with a recent adjustment eliminating the waiting period for retests. Meanwhile, medical boards and bar exams seem to be on hold, forcing students who have otherwise completed their studies and training to wait, and preventing them from working in their chosen fields.
The Consequences: Changing Tests Means Changing Culture
Regardless of whether or not test administrators accept the need to move tests online, those on the other end of the equation – schools and employers – are being forced to reconsider what role those tests play. For example, testing cancellation has pushed a number of colleges to remove SAT and ACT requirements from their admissions standards, and the same is increasingly true of graduate programs. Especially at the graduate level, research into the impact of testing suggests that placing less of an emphasis on testing could help diversify high-ranking jobs, which could be beneficial.
One thing that’s important to remember when considering the role testing pays in determining individual futures is that these exams are not about innate skill. They are often about the ability to pay for preparation, previous educational access, and other uneven determinants. Changing the norms around educational access could benefit those who can’t afford test prep classes, which can run to as much as $10,000 for the MCAT, creating a professional class that better represents the broader community.
Online testing comes with plenty of challenges, including technical issues and concerns about cheating, while eliminating tests makes traditionalists nervous – which is to say that there is no perfect solution. That’s the world we live in now, though, a world in which we face immense uncertainty. Luckily, we don’t need a perfect solution. We just need something that works, that keeps systems running while keeping people safe – and that’s well within our reach.