NATIONWIDE — High school students have endured their fair share of challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, from cancelled in-person graduation ceremonies to pivoting to online learning during the Fall semester. 

But high school seniors and juniors across the country have yet another hurdle to overcome: Scores of testing centers for college entrance exams have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, often with little or no warning ahead of time. 

What You Need To Know

  • Hundreds of ACT and SAT testing centers have closed due to the coronavirus pandemic or the West Coast wildfires

  • The ACT lists at least 500 closed testing centers across the country

  • 183,000 September-registered students and 154,000 October-registered students are unable to take the SAT

  • Many colleges have changed their testing requirements due to the extraordinary circumstances

First came the cancelled testing dates in the Spring, when the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns were still in full swing across the country. 

In May, the College Board — the company in charge of administering the SAT — announced that it had cancelled both that month’s testing dates and the makeup dates in March. The College Board did not offer any more in-person tests until August, but has since announced more fall dates to make up for the missed exams. 

Still, the makeup tests are not enough to accommodate every student whose original exam was cancelled.

As of Monday, 183,000 September-registered students and 154,000 October-registered students are unable to take the test due to closures or COVID safety precautions, the College Board said in a statement. The company said they will will continue to work with students throughout the year to ensure there are sufficient testing dates. 

Unfortunately, the company added, students in highly populated areas, such as Boston, Denver, and New York City, will “face the greatest challenge in finding open seats because of scarce test centers.”

Because of these extraordinary circumstances, the College Board also called on schools to “show flexibility” towards testing requirements this year, asking 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.”

High school students hoping to have better luck taking the ACT are likely to be disappointed. In April, the ACT announced that it had pushed that month’s test to June with another option later in the summer. 

In the months since, the ACT has come under fire for cancelling test dates or moving testing centers without properly notifying students or parents of the changes. 

In July, over a thousand students showed up to their testing centers only to be told that their exam was cancelled. 

"Around 1,400 examinees (at approximately 21 sites) were not able to test. We know that some sites canceled up until late Friday night, including some we were unaware of, resulting in unprocessed communications to students,” the ACT said in a statement to CNN at the time. “We are truly sorry that this happened, and we will do everything we can to provide solutions to students affected by this situation, including offering a makeup test date where we can."

The ACT promised to add new testing dates and test out “pop up” sites  to accommodate students whose previous tests were cancelled or rescheduled. 

But the plan has hit more than one snag, as the site currently lists nearly 500 cancelled tests, most of which were set to take place at high schools across the country.

In Reno, Nevada, another health emergency reportedly interfered with a Sept. 12 ACT test date: A handwritten sign scrawled on a piece of paper and taped to a car door said the ACT was cancelled due to “poor air quality,” according to a photo obtained by Inside Higher Ed.

“We did experience some last-minute test cancellations with test centers and school sites closing due to COVID-19, and West coast wildfires and poor air quality. However, these were not as significant as compared to summer test center closures,” the ACT said in a statement last Monday. “As we continue to navigate capacity limitations and site closures up until test day, we know that some students will be displaced. We are working to register students who were displaced this weekend due to site capacity limitations, COVID-19 closures, and the wildfires, for the upcoming national test date on Saturday, September 19 or one of our four test dates in October."

While some schools decided to try out new test-blind or test-optional policies for the SAT and ACT amid the coronavirus pandemic, the decision for students on whether to take the test is not an easy one. Many higher education institutions offer merit scholarships — aid not tied to a student’s financial need — based on their college entrance exam scores. 

As of last year, 25 states required high school students to take either the SAT or ACT as part of their school year. In years past, some of these states offered in-school testing free of charge for students, but the coronavirus pandemic has dampened their ability to receive the appropriate funds. 

Kentucky, a state which usually pays for students to take the ACT during class time, was “unable to secure the additional funding needed to test sophomores during spring 2020,” according to a statement from the state’s Department of Education. Instead, the state offered virtual practice sessions and make-up dates for students to take the exam in the Fall.