Standardized testing: Important changes to AP, SAT; K-12 tests canceled

The College Board said Friday that the rigorous two- to three- hour Advanced Placement exams will instead be a 45-minute, online test that will be taken at home.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

The Trump administration announced Friday that states will be allowed to cancel federally mandated standardized tests in K-12 schools for the current year, as part of an ongoing disruption of familiar student performance measures caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Also, high school students will be able to take Advanced Placement tests at home and the SAT college admissions test is canceled through May, among other schedule changes.

What does K-12 test cancellation mean in California?

The decision by the Trump administration was anticipated. California Gov. Gavin Newsom had already announced that the state was canceling its testing program with schools closed for an extended period.

But federal education guidelines meant California — and other states that made similar decisions — could have faced a cut-off of federal funds as a consequence for not carrying out its annual testing mandate.

In California this means no California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, typically administered in spring, will take place. California will not be financially penalized for the cancellation.


“Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations. Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time. Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment.”

Trump commented on the decision to reporters on Friday, saying that “probably a lot of the students will be extremely happy.”

What’s changed with Advanced Placement tests

The College Board, which administers the AP tests, announced Friday that the rigorous two- to three- hour exams will instead be a 45-minute, online test that will be taken at home.

It will include only questions about material that teachers are supposed to have covered through early March.

Students will be able to take the streamlined exams on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Taking a photo of handwritten work will also be an option. The College Board said it is working with partners to ensure that those who need technology to access the online test will receive it.

This is sure to be a relief to families who worry that not all high schools are currently providing strong online AP instruction. The College Board said this step is intended “to be fair to all students, some of whom have lost more instructional time than others.”

Students have the option of taking the exam prior to the traditional mid-May dates — while the material is still fresh in their minds. There will be two exam dates for each subject, which will be posted with other testing information by April 3.


Free remote learning resources, including practice tests, are available.

Because these exams will not proctored, measures will be in place to prevent cheating, the testing company said.

The College Board has published more detailed information for student and teachers.

Why is taking the AP test still important?

APs are designed as the culmination of college-level courses. Students take these classes — and tests — to show colleges that they have pursued and mastered rigorous coursework.

This information plays a role in college admission decisions. Students also can earn credit for college classes, resulting in the faster completion of degrees and saving students substantial time and money.

The College Board announcement comes in the wake of a survey: The testing company said that 91% of 18,000 AP students indicated they wanted to take the exams and urged against cancellations.

Colleges have agreed to accept the results of the streamlined exam and “are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they have worked this year to earn,” according to the College Board.


It’s crunch time for SAT and ACT. What about these tests?

The SAT and ACT are the central testing components of the nation’s college admissions system, although a growing number of institutions are moving away from a reliance on these exams.

Students have multiple opportunities to take these tests, but spring is a particularly important time in the testing cycle for high school juniors who are getting ready to apply to college next fall.

Here’s what the testing companies have done in response to the coronavirus-related school closures:

  • The March 25 SAT administration scheduled to take place during the school day has been postponed, with no replacement date as of now.
  • The May 2 SAT testing date, which includes international test sites, has been canceled and refunds are available.
  • The June 6 SAT and SAT subject tests are still on for now.
  • ACT has rescheduled its April 4 national test date to June 13. Registered students will receive an email about the postponement and instructions for free rescheduling to June 13 or later.

What’s the impact of canceling the K-12 tests?

The federal government requires that all students be tested annually in grades 3 through 8 and 11th grade. The results provide information about how individual students and groups of students are performing — data that are used as an accountability yardstick for teachers, schools and school districts.

The states determine the learning standards, which standardized test to use and how to interpret the results.

California uses an online exam in which questions get harder or easier depending on how well students answer them.

Some schools spend considerable time preparing students. The lack of an annual benchmark will leave a void in the annual data collection. But under the current coronavirus emergency, that consideration is far less important than protecting public health, officials said.

The annual testing mandate was a major policy of both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations. Under Secretary DeVos, the emphasis has shifted more toward making education dollars available for “choice” initiatives, which would let parents apply government education funding to public, private or religious schools. For the most part, Congress has resisted this change in direction.