SSAT at Home Update (11/05/2020)

November 5, 2020 Heather Hoerle

Dear Colleague,

I am writing to provide you an update on EMA’s SSAT at Home. 

Last spring, EMA recognized that the growing COVID-19 pandemic would put students and our member schools in a very difficult position. We forecast then that the limitations imposed on in-person testing might stymie the admission process for both students and schools. 

In response, we embarked on a project to design and deliver an at-home test. We understood that this initiative would pose challenges as we worked to convert the SSAT from a paper-based test to an online assessment but we owed it to our schools, students, and families to give them every opportunity to continue to have access to the SSAT. 

After beta testing over the summer and launching the first administration on September 26, we identified issues during the October 3 administration that forced us to suspend testing for that weekend. PSI, our technology partner, reported the following week that they had identified the root causes of the problems and corrected them. While we were encouraged by the improvements that PSI made in response to that incident, those positive signs were undone by new, unrelated technical problems that arose on Saturday, October 31. 

On Saturday, October 31, we suspended future administrations of the SSAT at Home. We have offered students who did not complete the SSAT at Home a free retest, and where possible, the option to sit for the test at a Prometric center or for a paper-based SSAT. 

While a Prometric or paper-based test option works for many, we know that this is an untenable option for those areas under COVID-related restrictions, such as the San Francisco Bay Area schools. We ask that as you make your admission decisions, you be thoughtful and flexible when evaluating the applications of students affected by challenging experiences with the SSAT at Home to ensure that they are not at any disadvantage.  

While we work to provide additional options for students, we are also moving forward to improve the  SSAT at Home so that the problems that we have experienced will not be repeated. On Wednesday, the EMA team and I met with PSI’s CEO and leadership to go through the issues in great depth. We detailed all of the steps that PSI would need to take to give us the confidence to relaunch an updated and improved SSAT at Home. 

As an outcome of that meeting, PSI agreed to implement technical changes to prevent the problems we have experienced, as well as make significant improvements to their customer and technical support services. We have agreed, in principle, to move forward with another round of SSAT at Home administrations. This decision is pending validation of PSI’s changes and improvements by EMA’s technology, testing operations, and customer service teams. 

We canceled the November 7 and 14 administrations of the SSAT at Home and communicated with families to inform them of their options. We currently have a full roster of students scheduled for November 21 and 28. The next available date for the SSAT at Home test is December 5. However, we need to have a high level of confidence that we can provide a quality testing experience before moving forward. 

Once the SSAT at Home is up and running again, we need to recognize that, like any remote service reliant on technology and the Internet, we still may encounter some issues. The key difference is that following the changes and improvements, we will have deeper insight into technical issues with PSI and the ability to directly correct and respond to them in real time. 

We take full responsibility for this, and we express our sincere apologies to you, your students, and your families. I have been in frequent touch with EMA’s board executive committee who shares in the decision to halt the SSAT at Home until we can provide an improved experience for testers. COVID-19 has reshaped every part of our work as enrollment professionals, and required our teams to deal with so many disruptions since March. Here at EMA, that included developing innovative technology-based solutions to support our members and families during these trying times. 

We won’t rest until we successfully get to the other side of these challenges. Thank you again for your trust in EMA as your enrollment partner and for your feedback and support.

Sincerely, 

Heather 

About the Author

Heather Hoerle

Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer

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