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Virginia Beach student's canceled ACT test score highlights flaws in college entrance exam system

After months of preparation and a successful test, Virginia Beach senior Chris Chirco's score was canceled due to 'no fault of his own.'

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Armed with two pencils and a calculator, Chris Chirco arrived at Princess Anne High School to take the ACT on an early Saturday morning in April.

He had studied with a tutor for months. Late nights. Practice tests.

“I’m ready, I’m going to get this great score... hopefully," Chris said.

And on test day, he felt confident.

“As I’m moving through it, I just feel like I’m killing it," he said.

Chris received a 32, a goal score for him and one that would open up thousands of dollars in scholarships and new college options.

Then about six weeks later, he received a letter from ACT.

It reads: "Unfortunately, due to an administrative error... through no fault of your own, your April test scores will be canceled."

ACT said an administrator at the testing site accidentally put Chris in a room that provided extra time for test sections.

“I just felt so defeated. I didn’t want to have to study again," Chris said.

ACT apologized, saying it "sincerely regrets that students were impacted by this very unfortunate situation," implying Chris Chirco isn't the only student whose test score was thrown out. 

The testing company offered Chris another chance to take the test for free, but he hadn’t studied for months. That’s a risk.

“If I didn’t do as well the next time, I guess that was the score I was going to get, and the opportunities and scholarships I would’ve received with a 32 would be out the window," Chris explained.

ACT labels this situation a “misadministration” and the company’s policy is to cancel every score involved to protect the “integrity of the test" and ensure no student has an unfair advantage. 

But how often does this happen?

Our 13 News Now Investigation confirmed that ACT tracks misadministrations each year, but the company chooses to not release numbers or statistics. ACT spokesman Ed Colby said these cases are rare, but he didn’t give information or statistics to support that claim.

13News Now pressed ACT and asked why the company chooses not to release the statistics to be transparent. They said they won’t for "security reasons." 

Despite multiple follow-up questions, Colby did not define these security reasons or explain what would be at risk if ACT released misadministration numbers for previous years of the test.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for national advocacy organization Fairtest, said a lack of transparency is a major problem. Schaeffer said the testing industry doesn't report or answer to anyone and these decisions can be life-changing for students.

“There’s no accountability for these companies’ behavior," Schaeffer said. "We don’t know how many cases [of misadministrations] there really are, we assume we only see the tip of the iceberg.”

In light of a nationwide college admissions cheating scandal revealed by the FBI earlier this year, a recent Politico investigation highlights how the college entrance exam industry still relies on "test-site supervisors and proctors - usually school employees looking to make some extra cash - doing the right thing."

Dino Chirco, Chris’ father, is a retired New York City firefighter with a strong moral code. He said the decision to cancel his son's score was devastating, even as a parent.

“When you continue to preach to your children that hard work will pay off and then you see it taken away by someone else’s error, it’s deflating," Chirco said.

He wants to see his son’s score reinstated, saying that Chris earned it.

“It makes Chris feel that all the work he’s done the right way was meaningless," he said. "Now I have to build him up again to have faith in the system, to have faith that the harder you work the rewards will be at the end of the road.”

Chris Chirco is still deciding if he will retake the ACT, as his father said there's no assurance that there won't be a similar error on a future test date.

If you've experienced problems with college entrance exams, email the 13 News Now I-Team at investigate@13newsnow.com.