Reporter’s notebook: Why is ACT gambling with my college future?

On Monday morning, after three Covid-19 test cancellations, months of excruciating studying and a long night of anticipation, cause for a massive sigh of relief sat in my email inbox: “You have a seat for fall ACT testing.” I had “automatically been registered for a September 2020 national test date at the closest available test center to (my) home address.”

But that was it. That was all the information I had on this important standardized college entrance exam. When? Where was I going? I couldn’t get onto the overwhelmed ACT website until the end of the day… Only to find out that I was assigned to a location two and a half hours away in Atlantic City. Out of the dozens of test centers located in and around Westchester, that was the closest open seat?

At least there was a silver lining: Maybe I could pass the time reviewing probabilities at the casinos between test sections.

As I talked to my Pelham classmates, I learned I was one of the lucky ones. One friend had been told she had a seat—in Tennessee. Fiddle tunes anyone? Others were supposed to go to Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia—and Utah! After waiting on the site for over an hour, some even found that the earliest date available to them was in December. Frantic students and parents attempted to raise complaints with customer service, but to no avail; when dialed, the phone number listed on the ACT website was found to have been disconnected.

In response to the challenges that Covid has posed, many colleges and universities are opting to go “test-optional” for the 2020-2021 admission season, so students who endured months of minimal communication and inconsistent policies from ACT are now seriously weighing the benefits of taking the test at all. 

“Between the site crashing and test centers being sold out within seconds, it’s become a question of whether or not it’s even worth it to take the test,” said Nell Plunkett, a senior at Pelham Memorial High School.

Meanwhile, some families have already booked flights to their far-away testing centers.

ACT has yet to make any changes to the assignments. The best hope for local students is that Pelham will open as an additional private test center in September.