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Coronavirus education upheaval: Shorter online versions of Advanced Placement exams replace regular AP tests

A student works on an assignment in an Advanced Placement class in 2019. (Julie Bennett/for The Washington Post)
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The organization that oversees the Advanced Placement program announced Friday that traditional, face-to-face AP testing will be canceled this year because of the coronavirus crisis and replaced by shorter online versions of the exams that can be taken in 45 minutes at home.

The College Board’s announcement reflected a moment of extraordinary upheaval in education, with schools across the country closing in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. AP tests ordinarily occur in May. But disruptions in classes are occurring in many states, with no end in sight, posing unprecedented obstacles for teachers and students.

The AP tests, graded on a five-point scale, offer students the ability to earn college credit while in high school. Many colleges offer advanced standing or credit toward graduation for those who earn high scores in more than 30 subjects from English literature to statistics.

The College Board said it surveyed 18,000 AP students and most did not want the exams canceled outright. So the organization decided to scrap face-to-face testing because of the immense logistical and public health hurdles and switch to an online format.

“Colleges support this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they have worked this year to earn,” the College Board said. “For decades, colleges have accepted a shortened AP Exam for college credit when groups of students have experienced emergencies.”

Students will be able to take the 45-minute exams on computers, tablets or smartphones. “To be fair to all students, some of whom have lost more instructional time than others, the exam will only include topics and skills most AP teachers and students have already covered in class by early March,” the organization said.

The College Board acknowledged the switch will raise concerns about test security. “The exam questions are designed and administered in ways that prevent cheating; we use a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software, to protect the integrity of the exams,” the organization said.

It added that scoring at-home work for an AP test is not new. “For years the AP Program has received and scored at-home student work as part of the exams for the AP Computer Science Principles and AP Capstone courses,” the College Board said.

“These solutions are meant to be as simple and lightweight as possible for both students and teachers — without creating additional burdens for school leaders during this time,” the organization said.

More details on the at-home exams are expected by April 3.