Students in an SAT preparation course in New York, March 1, 2016. The SAT and the ACT, standardized tests that serve as a gateway to college for millions of applicants each year, announced on April 15, 2020, that they would develop digital versions for students to take at home in the fall if the coronavirus pandemic continues to require social distancing. Image Credit: NYT

A key college entrance exam has been scrapped until at least August due to public health concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic, adding more pressure to the agencies at a time when dozens of colleges are making the tests optional.

Coronavirus-related school closures forced the cancellation of spring testing for about 1 million first-time test-takers, the majority of them high school juniors planning to enter college in 2021, College Board officials said. The national June 6 session is the latest to be canceled.

"We know students and educators are worried about how the coronavirus may disrupt the college admissions process, and we want to do all we can to help alleviate that anxiety during this very demanding time," College Board Chief Executive Officer David Coleman said in the statement.

About 20 states have already closed schools for the rest of the academic year, he said later on a call with reporters.

The coronavirus has upended higher education, clearing college students from campuses and forcing their high school counterparts to take online classes at home. Schools have adjusted, offering pass/fail options instead of grades and waiving graduation requirements such as gym credits. A growing number of colleges - including Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, Pomona, the University of California and Tufts - have made the SAT and ACT optional for admission, at least temporarily.

SAT at home if schools remain closed

A home version of the SAT college entrance exam is being prepared in case schools remain closed into the fall, College Board officials said Wednesday as they announced the cancellation of June testing.

Instead of a paper-and-pencil test given under proctors' supervision, the home version would be digital and rely on "remote proctoring.'' That could include using the computer's camera and microphone to monitor movement or talking, College Board President Jeremy Singer said on a conference call with reporters.

"We would much prefer that schools reopen but we are ready to innovate and deliver in the unlikely case we need to," Chief Executive David Coleman said.

The three-hour, multiple choice test measures math and English language arts proficiency.

If it's safe, the College Board will resume and expand in-person SAT testing in August, with Saturday sessions offered once a month through December, officials said. Students who had planned to take the SAT for free in school this spring can instead take it in the fall.