By Andrew Larkins and Louis Park
AP exams are an important facet of student lives nowadays, with over 5 million students in 2019 sitting down for a few hours with a pencil to take these exams. These $94 tests run by College Board matter deeply to students for college credits and admission. AP tests prove to colleges that students have a firm understanding of the subject at hand at a level above the high school norm.
With this year’s worldwide pandemic though, many schools aren’t giving out letter grades and are instead opting for varied grading systems such as pass/fail. These changes make this year’s AP tests all the more important, with College Board stating that “91% of AP students reported a desire to take the AP exam at the end of the course.”
However, this year, due to COVID-19, the College Board made significant changes to the 2020 AP exams. For the 2019-20 AP exams the test was moved online, and content was cut from many tests to line up with what schools had taught up until early March when many schools closed. In addition, College Board shortened the length of each test, with the multiple-choice segments thrown out and the free-response section being shortened to 45 minutes for most tests.
These tests were not without issue though, with the National Center for Fair and Open Testing stating that “anywhere between 5% and 20% of examinees were unable to submit their responses through the at-home testing platform during the first three days of AP exams. One AP Coordinator reported a failure rate of 30%. Some students could only submit partial responses, and others could not even log on to take the exams.”
“I was not surprised when these concerns were evidently true; my AP Calc test did not accept my photos and the same case was apparent with many of my friends,” Brennan Chang, a high school senior in Seattle, stated. Brennan is part of the thousands of students who will have to retake their exams in a June makeup test. “College Board forcing us to take a retake in June is literally putting the blame on the students,” Brennan says.
College Board was late in responding to these test-taking issues. On May 22, 2020, 11 days after AP exams had begun, the College Board stated that “less than one percent of students had a problem submitting their response.” This official number is strikingly different from what other sources have reported. Only in the second week of AP exams though, College Board introduced a backup submission option through email if the website failed. However, this was not retroactive, and numerous failures from the first week were not eligible for this option.
Brennan described the problems as “something that they should have expected before.” Due to the issues encountered during the testing experience, the work he had done during his test is invalid. His only option now is to continue studying for the test until the make-up tests. “[College Board’s actions show] to me how they really don’t care about students -their dependable consumer base,” he said. “This year’s AP tests were a failure, end of question.”
These failures by College Board have spawned more than just disenchantment with the students taking the tests though, as a lawsuit has been taken up against College Board for their AP tests this year. FairTest, also known as The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, has joined with students whose tests could not be submitted due to technical issues. According to Bob Shaeffer, “The College Board rushed ‘untested’ AP computerized exams into the marketplace in order to preserve the testing company’s largest revenue-generating program after schools shut down this spring, even though they were warned about many potential access, technology and security problems”
The lawsuit, in which plaintiffs are seeking “compensatory damages in an amount that exceeds $500 million” and “punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish Defendants” and “to deter them from engaging in wrongful conduct in the future.” The suit accuses College Board of “breach of contract, gross negligence, misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act among other illegal activities.”
As Brennan says, “The AP tests exemplify an inevitable truth to all students nationwide -that College Board testing has become a de facto requirement for students to compete in the educational system, so to think that College Board has forced us to comply with this system, and that we’ve followed the rules to submission, only for a glitch to appear is upsetting enough in a 5 minute time limit to submit our answers.”