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College Board changing how AP test-takers can submit answers after complaints of botched online exams


After a tsunami of complaints about students having problems submitting answers during online Advanced Placement exams last week, the College Board said Sunday that it will allow some test-takers to email their responses this coming week. However, that does not apply to students who already had trouble with the exams.

The College Board, which owns the AP program, alerted students on Sunday and posted on its website details of the change, starting Monday, explaining how students taking browser-based AP exams can email their responses immediately if they are unable to submit them the preferred way. The email address provided will be unique to each student.

The change came after students taking AP exams in various subjects last week reported having trouble completing their exams, many of them encountering problems submitting answers through the testing platform. The College Board told them their only recourse was to retake the exam in June.

“To protect the security and validity of exams, we’re unable to accept submissions from students who tested May 11-15,” the College Board said. “However, these students can feel confident that the email option will be in place for them during the makeup exams.”

That was not likely to satisfy teachers, parents and students who could not submit answers last week.

“That’s still so unacceptable and ridiculous,” said Margaret Yang, whose son took an AP exam last week in Okemos, Mich., and couldn’t submit answers. “They need to assist and offer [another] option for these students.”

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College Board says new online AP tests are going well — but students report big problems

This is the first time that AP tests have been given online at home, a result of the shutdown of schools because of the coronavirus pandemic. The College Board said students wanted to take the tests online — which were shortened from several hours to 45 minutes — because the scores can factor into college admissions decisions and students can receive college credit for high scores.

Critics said online testing isn’t fair to students who have no computer, access to Internet or quiet work spaces from which to study and work, or to students with disabilities who do not have appropriate accommodations — challenges the College Board acknowledged and said it tried to ameliorate. They also questioned the validity of the shortened versions of the exams.

Last week, the organization said that students took 2.186 million AP exams during the first week of the two-week May testing window, and that "less than 1 percent of students were unable to submit their responses.”

Asked for the exact number of students who had problems, the College Board on Sunday declined to provide one. One percent of the students who took the exam last week would be 21,860 students. One half of one percent would be 10,930 students. One-tenth of 1 percent would be 2,186 students. The College Board said on Monday that some students took more than one test, which would lower the number of students affected, but it still would not provide data on the actual number of students who encountered problems last week.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization that operates substantially like a business, rushed shortened, online AP into production after it had to cancel 900,000 administrations of the SAT this spring, resulting in a loss of tens of millions of dollars. Each AP exam taken in the United States, U.S. territories, Canada and Defense Department schools costs $94. For students elsewhere, each test is $124.

The College Board has faced growing calls for it to be more transparent about problems with its online AP exams. Andrew B. Palumbo, assistant vice president for enrollment management and dean of admissions and financial aid at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, accused the College Board of ignoring "repeated requests from member universities for verifiable data on the AP system failures and a root cause analysis to help school counselors and colleges advise and support students.

“This purposeful silence and lack of accountability during a time of crisis for the College Board is deeply troubling and raises questions about the organization, it’s leadership, and its trustees who should be pressing for accountability and support for students and members,” he said in an email.

Asked about the calls for transparency, the College Board said, “After the first few days of testing, our data show the vast majority of students successfully completed their exams, with less than 1 percent unable to submit their responses.”

It also said its testing platform was sound and “has not come close to crashing,” and suggested that problems students were encountering were because of outdated browsers and other issues not the fault of the College Board.

But students, parents and teachers said problems were not the students’ fault. They said they want the College Board to accept photographs or videos with time stamps as proof of completing an exam last week so that it can be scored and so retesting won’t be necessary. Some posted on social media videos of their efforts to submit their exams.

Melissa Stanhope, the AP coordinator at A.B. Miller High School in Fontana, Calif., said she had frustrations with the online AP exams that went beyond an inability to submit answers.

“Information continues to change,” she said. "What has been dispersed on the official website and in webinars have been contradicted by statements on social media, particularly Twitter. It is difficult to reach all AP families during this pandemic under normal circumstances. Disseminating accurate information is difficult, given changing guidelines.”

Marla Schnall, a math teacher at Falls Church High School in Virginia, said three of 42 of her students who took AP tests last week had problems submitting and numerous other teachers on the message boards are reporting similar rates of issues. Students, such as Cedric Chan, a sophomore at Los Altos High School in California who took the AP Calculus BC and the AP European History exams last week and had problems submitting answers to the first test, said he knows a number of people who could not submit their responses.

Bob Schaeffer, interim director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a small nonprofit organization that works to end the misuse of standardized tests, said that FairTest had received phone calls with complaints about the online testing, which appear to fall into three broad categories.

The most common was the inability to upload answers at the end of the time allotted to a particular question. Another set of problems involved students who were properly registered but unable to log on to the testing platform. There were also Internet connectivity problems.

“The first two sets of issues and, likely, many of the third group, are unquestionably the responsibility of the College Board,” Schaeffer said. “But, all the company will offer test-takers is permission to take a makeup test in June. … The College Board’s unwillingness to identify ways to score exams that were, in fact, completed is beyond irresponsible and, potentially, subject to legal action under consumer protection laws."