More than 2.8 million students took the tests last year in subjects such as biology and world history. Typically, the tests are two to three hours long. Those who earn scores of 3 or better on the 5-point AP scale are often able to secure college credit. But this year, it is anyone’s guess how many will participate.
Given the immense logistical hurdles of testing in a pandemic, the International Baccalaureate Organization recently canceled exams this spring for the IB classes that many high school students take.
Skeptics wonder how students without access to reliable Internet, computers or quiet workspaces will be able to study for AP tests and get a fair shot at the possibility of earning college credit. The College Board, which oversees the program, acknowledged the challenge.
“We recognize that the digital divide could prevent some low-income and rural students from participating,” the nonprofit testing organization said in a statement. “Working with partners, we’re investing so these students have the tools and connectivity they need to review AP content online and take the exam.”
But some educators and counselors remain worried.
“I don’t want our children, especially first-generation low-income students, to be intimidated about taking these tests,” said Sanjay Mitchell, coordinator of college and alumni programs for Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School in the District of Columbia. “I don’t want them to risk their health and sanity just to be able to take the tests, so they can ultimately, maybe get some college credit.”
Mitchell, whose school serves a significant number of disadvantaged students in the nation’s capital,
viewed a College Board online presentation on the testing plan Thursday evening. “It heightened my concerns,” Mitchell said afterward in a text message. “And made me more skeptical.”
Delonta Johnson, 17, a senior at Thurgood Marshall, is taking AP classes in calculus, government and computer science. He said he doesn’t want to take the tests. “I don’t have Internet connectivity that’s stable enough,” he said. Other options are difficult, he said, given the mandate for social distancing.
Alexis Jones, 18, a classmate, said the distractions are intense as she hunkers down with family in an apartment. “It’s just hard to focus and find a place to be by myself,” said Jones, who is taking AP calculus and computer science. “I don’t know how they expect us to do an AP exam at home.” (The computer science principles class that Jones and Johnson are taking does not have a year-end exam, but the other courses do.)
The College Board said it surveyed 18,000 AP students and found that most want to take the exams. The survey was sent to a representative, random sample of domestic AP students, the College Board said. The testing organization said students who don’t want to take the test can cancel at no charge. Refund policies are determined by schools and test centers, the College Board said. The typical individual fee for a test is $94.
The College Board is making free online classes and review sessions available for AP students through YouTube.
This week, the large and influential University of California system gave a vote of confidence to the College Board’s effort to rescue the AP exams. “UC recognizes the effort that students have already applied in these challenging courses and will award UC credit for 2020 AP exams completed with scores of 3, 4 or 5, consistent with previous years,” the university said Wednesday.
In a message to high schools, the College Board spelled out Friday how exams will be structured and held.
- They will be given from May 11 to 22, with each subject taken on the same day at the same time worldwide.
- There will be makeup sessions for each test from June 1 to 5.
- Most exams will have one or two free-response questions, and each question will be timed separately. Students must submit answers within the time allotted for each question. There won’t be any multiple-choice questions.
- Students will be able to take exams on computers, tablets or smartphones. They can either type and upload responses or write them by hand and submit a photo via cellphones.
- There will be special arrangements for assessing students in art, foreign language and certain other subjects.
The College Board said the exams will be “open book/open note,” but students will not be allowed to consult others during the test.
“We’ll take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of each exam administration, as we do every year,” the organization said. “We’re confident that the vast majority of AP students will follow the rules for taking the exams. For the small number of students who may try to gain an unfair advantage, we have a comprehensive and strict set of protocols in place to prevent and detect cheating.”