An Open Letter To the ACT Exam Proctors Who Attempted To Marginalize Black Students

Robert Parker, a veteran educator, calls out college exam proctors for attempting to marginalize some of his students. In this open letter, Robert confronts the proctors and challenges them to improve their mindsets about Black kids.

Dear ACT Organization and ACT Proctors:

As educators across the country prepare to return to school and attend professional development training, it is my hope that your organization does the same to ensure your proctors are being developed in the area of equity, diversity, inclusion, cultural context and discriminatory practices.

Please remember that all students should be treated fairly when testing. Bias, discrimination, and micro-aggressions are not something that students should have to deal with when taking an exam that has such a major impact on their post-secondary career. In addition, the stress from such micro-aggressions can cause stereotype threat further impacting students’ ability to perform well on the exam.

It deeply saddens and frustrates me to know that my students were discriminated against while taking the ACT exam on Saturday, April 14, 2018, because of their race. Before and during the ACT exam at John W. Hallahan High School in Philadelphia, PA, several of my students and staff had to deal with various forms of discrimination and micro-aggressions from the site coordinator and proctors.

At Simon Gratz Mastery Charter we go to great lengths to make sure our students are prepared to take the ACT exam. When you walk through the halls of our school you will see posters with names of HBCUs, Ivy League colleges and state colleges. Right next to the name of each college is the ACT score you need for acceptance.

We do our best to prepare our students for what they will encounter on the exam, but I would never think to have to prepare my students to deal with the micro-aggressions and the blatant racial discrimination they experienced at Hallahan.

It was appalling and racist to have the ACT site coordinator walk over to an assistant principal and teacher before the exam started and say, “We have a kid being disrespectful in here and I think it’s one of yours. We have the most problems with Gratz kids every year being disrespectful.”

What exactly did the site coordinator mean by “…it’s one of yours”?

Often, accusations beginning with “your kids…” or “those kids…” are basically  code words for Black students or an attempt to “other” children. That is clearly a demonstration of a micro-aggression. After hearing this, our assistant principal responded, “Our kids are great kids”—and proceeded to go upstairs to see how he could support.

The coordinator took him to a testing room and pointed at a student who was not even from Gratz! Did she assume that because the child was Black that she had to be from Simon Gratz? Did she already develop some form of bias based on race?

This is of great concern because, if this proctor was comfortable saying what she said to our school administrator, what would she say (or did she say) to our students during testing when we are not present?

You would think after profiling a student and realizing she was wrong, she would have apologized, but she did not. She walked away with bias and bigotry guiding her thoughts about our students. This woman had already written our students and other students of color off before the test had even begun.

To make matters worse, proctors made a decision to send one of our students home after a break because he was allegedly on his cell phone. In fact, this was not possible because his cell phone was still in his book bag. The student was told that while he was on break he was seen on his cell phone. The student protested, asking, “Who saw me and where did they see me because my phone is in my bag and the bag never left the room?” He even asked proctors to check his bag and they refused. They just took his test and sent him home.

According to the ACT Terms and Conditions: ACT has sole authority for determining whether to take action regarding prohibited behavior observed or suspected on test day, and its decisions are final.

Your proctors are able to address students for any behaviors that are “suspected,” and take away all the hard work students put into taking the exam. But what if your proctors violate the code of conduct? How will they be held accountable?

In this instance, it seems your proctors were “suspecting” that all students from Simon Gratz were disrespectful, so they were taking action to prohibit them from taking the exam simply because they are Black and attend a large urban school.

According to the ACT Standard Time Supervisor Manual, under “equal treatment”: “All staff are required to administer and supervise the ACT in a non-discriminatory manner.” We have two adults and multiple students who can attest that this policy was clearly violated.

Just as there was swift action taken against one of our students, swift action should be taken against the coordinator and proctors who displayed discriminatory practices against our students and staff.  I am not writing just to bring awareness about the treatment of our staff and students, but also to offer some ideas on how to improve engagement with students.

Here are few suggestions for the ACT organization:

  1. A formal apology should be extended to staff and students who were treated unfairly at John W. Hallahan High School.
  2. The proctors who displayed these behaviors should be required to attend diversity or cultural context training.
  3. Have all proctors take a cultural context and/or discriminatory practice training.
  4. Have all proctors sign a commitment clause not to discriminate against students based on their race, gender, religion or school, sexuality, gender expression, or other visible or nonvisible social identity markers.
  5. Train proctors/site directors to be approachable and polite to students.
  6. ACT should do random visits to check how proctors are engaging with students and give critical and useful feedback to proctors.
  7. ACT should survey students to gain insight from their experience during the exam with proctors.



Robert Parker
Concerned Educator


Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


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