By Ryan Smith ’17
I couldn’t believe it,” said Cameron Sherry, a senior at Chaminade. “I just wondered how something like this could happen. You work so hard for months, and then this changes everything.”
Hours of self-preparation. Hundreds of dollars spent on tutoring. Weighing the pros and cons of the ACT and the SAT against each other. Each of these factors is an essential element to the college admissions process for all students at Chaminade, but there exists an expectation that the issues in the hands of professionals – and not at all controlled by applicants – are executed without a hitch.
In reality, the perfect college application does not come easily. Every student aspires to make his or hers as thorough and comprehensive as possible, a showcase of grades and extracurricular involvement worthy enough for acceptance into his or her dream school. Nevertheless, no matter how much time and money are pumped into the application process, one factor remains unchanged – trust in the standardized testing system.
For one group of high-school students, that trust was shattered.
For decades, standardized testing has played a key role in the college admissions process. The ACT, first introduced in the Midwest by a professor from the University of Iowa in 1959, offers students a fresh alternative to the more traditional SAT, as most colleges and universities now accept either test. The roughly three-hour exam is divided into English, math, reading, and science sections, with an optional 40-minute writing portion at the end. Offered multiple times during the spring and fall, the ACT has become a very popular choice for students across Long Island.
However, this acclaim quickly turned to infamy for 53 students who took the October 22, 2016 exam administered at Roslyn High School. These local high schoolers – mostly seniors looking to make one last push for their college applications – sat through the exam as usual without any issues or worries. Despite feelings of relief and satisfaction upon exiting the school, weeks passed by and no results were returned. After a while, every student in the region had received his or her scores on this ACT exam, with the exception of these 53.
As a critical component to a college application and a tiresome, but necessary part of the oftentimes grueling process of maximizing one’s academic image, the “inconvenience” (as the ACT termed it) caused by the disappearing answer sheets in October seems to have resulted in an irredeemable situation.
Anticipation turned into anxiety, which soon became distress. Two months after sitting through the test, each effected student received a letter in the mail stating that his or her answer sheet was among those missing. Whether it be at the exam site, the ACT headquarters, or somewhere in between, ACT still does not have an explanation for the devastated students and their families. A refund and free make-up exam were granted to each family, but for many, it was too little, too late. The rescheduled test, which was held on January 14, was past the application deadlines for many colleges.
Like the rest of the 53 unfortunate test-takers, Sherry was hoping to use the October exam to achieve a final, optimal score for use on his college applications. Whether it be for a scholarship, honors program, or simply admittance into the college, he and his fellow victims’ efforts have now gone to waste.
Aside from the tangible effects felt by these hopeful students, the emotional distrust between exam administrator and test-taker could take time to heal.
“It definitely makes me less confident in standardized tests,” Sherry added. “Prior to the incident, my worries faded after I took the exam. Now, I worry that something similar could happen in the future.”
As a critical component to a college application and a tiresome, but necessary part of the oftentimes grueling process of maximizing one’s academic image, the “inconvenience” (as the ACT termed it) caused by the disappearing answer sheets in October seems to have resulted in an irredeemable situation. The refunded costs of the exam and the hasty offer for a retake did little, at least on the surface, to compensate for the potential of money lost in financial packages and the prospect of facing a different admission decision from a college or university.
While those affected were able to retake the test, the harm done by the ACT’s mistake ran far deeper than their decision to obligate the affected students to surrender another Saturday morning. Instead, the ripple effect of this incident may be felt well beyond the few months of chaos experienced by the shuffled students, and thus reach a level that better represents the multitude of unfortunate situations created by this staggering, extraordinary irregularity.