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Local High School Students Leave California to take SAT & ACT Tests

Archbishop Mitty High School senior Alexis Giardina has the opportunity to receive a sports scholarship to a Division I school, but she has run into a problem. To qualify for the scholarship, she has to do something she can’t do anywhere in California.

“The school that I’m possibly being recruited to for acro and tumbling is requiring that I have an SAT score, basically insisting on it for me to qualify for one of their scholarships,” said Giardina. “I was originally supposed to take the SAT in March at my school, Mitty, and because of COVID and everything, all of the dates up until this point have been canceled.”

Giardina isn’t alone. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the SAT and ACT tests have not been available to almost every member of California’s Class of 2021 since March. The lack of availability has forced many students to go to great lengths to take the tests.

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“We’re both flying out to Arizona tomorrow to take our tests on Saturday,” Nithila Poongovan, a senior at Santa Clara High School said a couple weeks ago.

Poongovan boarded a plane in mid-September with her best friend Meghana Repaka, a senior at Lynbrook High School. Both of them were headed to a small town in Arizona to take the ACT test. For Poongovan, it was her second trip to Arizona in less than a month. She flew into the state in late August to take a subjects SAT. She says she wasn’t the only person from California in the room.

“For my subject SAT, the place that I went to, there are only two students taking it. It was me and another kid and he had flown in from LA, I think,” said Poongovan. “I’m pretty sure a lot of people are doing this.”

Poongovan didn’t come up with the idea on her own. She learned about it on Reddit, where she says a lot of kids were posting about going out of state to take the tests.

Neither the ACT or SAT would provide numbers for how many California students were taking the tests in neighboring states. A media representative for the ACT says there were approximately 1,300 fewer national test centers participating in September test dates than in the previous year. The number of people taking the ACT nationwide in September was 126,000 students compared to 80,000 students in July and 50,000 students in June.

The College Board, which administers the SAT says a test was available for students in California on Aug. 29, but every testing center on The College Board’s website read “This test center is closed. All registrations will be canceled and refunded.”

All of the cancellations are the reason why Giardina looked for an out of state test date in September. She found one in Oregon on Sept. 26. She and her family were all set to drive north, but then that test was cancelled because of the wildfires.

The school offering a potential scholarship has been lenient so far. Giardina has one more chance to take the SAT test, but because the cancellation happened after the deadline to register for the October SAT test, she’ll have to wait until November to do it.

“We’re obviously just hoping for the best-case scenario; hoping that in November the SAT doesn’t get canceled because, in that case, I don’t know what I would do,” said Giardina.

“Obviously because of the pandemic, we’re trying to avoid having to fly anywhere. So, driving would be would be ideal,” said Rheanna Giardina, Alexis’ mother. “If it’s, for example, if Texas is the only place that has it and it’s something that is important enough and we need to have it in order for her to qualify, then we got to do what we got to do.”

Both the SAT and ACT have asked universities to understand the unique circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and treat the Class of 2021 accordingly. Many universities have agreed to make test scores optional, but Poongovan says she won’t take any chances.

“I think the whole test optional thing isn’t necessarily optional,” said Poongovan. “You can be tested blind and that’s a different thing than being test optional because if you were to compare two applicants, one had an SAT score and the other one didn’t, they’re more likely to go off the one that has all the statistics.”

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