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Internet Connection Problems Derail SAT Schedule in Oakland

About 1,400 students came to the Marriott Hotel in downtown Oakland, Calif., some from considerable distances, to take the SAT exam, which is now entirely online. Officials had to cancel the test due to Wi-Fi problems.

digital SAT test
(TNS) — Hundreds of students who had come to Oakland to take the SAT on Saturday were told — after hours of waiting in the test room — that the exam was canceled due to Internet connection problems.

College Board, a nonprofit that runs the SAT, said in a statement that about 1,400 students had come to the Marriott Hotel in downtown Oakland to take the college admission exam. Though the SAT is entirely online, students are required to take it at test sites. But a shortage of those sites throughout California has forced many families to travel long distances to exam sites — if they can find one with open slots.

Lainie Motamedi, the president of the board of the San Francisco Unified School District, said she was excited to snag a last-minute spot for Saturday's SAT for her son, an 11th-grader. They even reserved a room at the Marriott so he could be in the exam room at the test's scheduled start time of 7:45 a.m.

The problems started immediately, said Greyson Jones, an 11th-grade student from Half Moon Bay. The students tried to access the exam, but the online system showed only a "loading" message. Test officials checked repeatedly, but said only that they were working on an issue with the Wi-Fi.

When officials finally announced they were canceling the exam, students cheered, Jones said.

"We were just so tired," Jones added.

But the students couldn't leave yet. The proctors had collected their phones, and when they realized how long it would take to return them one by one, they placed all the devices on a table so the students could find theirs — a process that took some of them nearly an hour, potentially making the phones vulnerable to theft.

"Overall, a pretty horrible experience," Jones said.

College Board said in a statement that the number of students wanting to take the SAT on the weekend has "exceeded capacity" due to the lack of high schools and other sites willing to host the exam. The nonprofit added that while it contracted with a vendor to manage test administration at hotels and other locations, it will "revisit vendor processes to ensure students do not encounter problems moving forward."

"We know this was an incredibly difficult situation for students who worked hard to prepare for the test," College Board added. "We deeply apologize to all affected students. They will receive a full refund, and we are working to ensure they are able to retest."

Marriott Hotels did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Eunice Charles, who drove her 11th-grade son from El Sobrante to take the exam, said he doesn't necessarily need to take the SAT, as the University of California and California State University systems don't consider students' scores as part of their admission process. Some other colleges have made admission exams optional. But many students in California still want to take it, Charles said.

"They should just open up more sites," she added.

Motamedi, the SFUSD president, said the next SAT date she could find within 100 miles of San Francisco was an October test in Fairfield. But she's reluctant to sign her son up for the slot, because he'll already have to deal with college applications in the fall.

"It's a lot to balance," she said. "That's why we were trying to get it done in spring."

The tests "fill up really, really quick, and it just doesn't seem fair or equitable," Motamedi added. "It's just another stressor and unnecessary burden for these kids."

©2024 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.