School & District Management

Technical Glitches and Lawsuit Dampen Experiment With Remote AP Tests

By Gabrielle Wanneh — May 20, 2020 4 min read
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By Gabrielle Wanneh

The nation’s first-ever remote Advanced Placement exams are going on this week, amid complaints about technical glitches, a lawsuit, and concerns about potential cheating.

The College Board is reporting, however, that after the first few days of testing, most students were able to complete and submit their exams, with less than 1 percent of the 2.9 million test-takers being unable to do so. The board has said it considers the small percentage of incomplete tests a success for such an unprecedented testing experience.

But it wasn’t enough to dissuade students, families, and test-equity advocates from filing a lawsuit seeking that the organization score the answers of those who couldn’t submit their exams during the first week of testing, as well as over $500 million in compensatory damages and an unset figure in punitive damages.

The biggest concern for many of the test-takers who were unable to submit their tests is that they must take them again.

Sixteen-year-old Dominic Verry, a junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Ky., encountered difficulties with uploading photo submissions of his work for his AP Calculus BC exam, which he had been preparing for since late February.

Verry initially tried to submit photos of his work from his phone, then from his laptop. Nothing worked, however, and the test eventually timed out. He said he’ll have to retake the exam in June.

“I felt really good about this exam,” Verry said. “I felt it was the best work that I had done in a while, so I was pretty mad when I couldn’t turn it in.”

What happened to Verry is not an anomaly among students who weren’t able to submit their AP exams, as swarms of complaints and concerns regarding similar technical issues had been presented on social media and to the College Board over the course of the first week of testing.

Other technical errors include not being able to submit answers when the time for a question ran out, problems logging into the testing platform, and issues with Internet connectivity.

In response to the many reports, the College Board introduced a back-up submissions process on Sunday meant to provide students who are unable to submit their exam through the standard process with the ability to email their submissions instead.

Effective since Monday, the new process will be available for students throughout the remaining testing dates and through the makeup period. To ensure the security and validity of exams, however, students who couldn’t submit their exams during the first week will have to wait until June to benefit from this option.

JoonWoo Park, 16, is another junior from Paul Laurence Dunbar who, like Verry, was unable to submit his answers for the AP Calculus BC exam. After having to adjust to the rapid switch to online learning for his regular schoolwork earlier this year, Park had been looking forward to finishing up his school year after taking this test and two other exams.

Park said that he understood that this was the College Board’s first try at online testing and that problems were expected to happen, but he’s still not too thrilled about having to continue studying for another test even after school ends.

“I’m glad that there’s a second chance, but I’m not looking forward to taking it again,” Park said. “It’s just stressful. After my last exam, I thought I would be done with school.”

In Franklin, Tenn., Paige LaRock, 16, a junior at Battle Ground Academy, is also not looking forward to retaking her AP Chemistry exam well after the last day of classes, which was last Friday. The summer has already begun for most of her friends, while she’ll have to continue preparing for her exam.

LaRock was unable to submit photos of her work for the first part of the exam before time ran out.

“I took pictures of my test and sent it to my laptop,” LaRock said. “They downloaded to my laptop, but nothing would upload onto the College Board website. I exhausted every option, and nothing would work.”

In response to the new backup submissions feature, LaRock added that “there should have been a backup plan put in place at the beginning.”

The technical problems came on top of early concerns about potential cheating, as students took the tests at home rather than in supervised school settings.

Right before testing began, Trevor Packer, the College Board’s head of Advanced Placement and instruction, announced that a ring of students had been barred from registering for the AP exams on Twitter, after it was discovered they were planning to cheat. Critics said the organization’s focus seemed to lie more on the potential for student cheating rather than on ensuring that the exams would fair, equitable, and technically sound.

“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,” said Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of the advocacy group FairTest, in a press release announcing the lawsuit on Wednesday.

While the College Board could now be facing more appreciable consequences for any technical defects, student advocates are worried some of the same problems will plague SAT exams administered by the organization later this year.

“It blows my mind that they just forget the fact that they’re mission is to be supporting and providing opportunities to students,” said Merrit Jones, president of the advocacy group Student Voice. “I just don’t think that they’re putting students’ needs first.”

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.

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