In the wake of school closures necessitated by the current covid-19 crisis, the College Board—the organization that oversees Advanced Placement Exams—is being sued by a group of students who claim that it knew of and even acknowledged issues with at-home testing that could disproportionately affect some students and not others. As a result, the students say they experienced glitches and were in some cases unable to submit answers on exams, which can play an important role in students’ college curriculums.
Who could have possibly foreseen that at-home exams for high-stakes testing could have gone awry? Well, according to the class-action complaint filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the College Board was forewarned by families and educators that students would face many obstacles in an at-home testing system, including a potential lack of fairness, access, security, accessibility, connectivity, and even a quiet space conducive to test-taking. The suit alleges that concerned parties highlighted that some under-resourced students may struggle to find access to a computer or the internet at all.
In fact, the College Board itself is alleged to have acknowledged these obstacles both before and after testing began. In April, the organization said in a statement that it understood the at-home testing format may “prevent some low-income and rural students from participating.” At the time, it said that it was exploring partnerships “so these students have the tools and connectivity they need to review AP content online and take the exam.” According to the suit, three days into at-home AP exams, the organization’s president, David Coleman, further acknowledged issues when he wrote in an email that the College Board “can’t control the conditions in students’ homes,” further adding that “like the virus itself, these disruptions will disproportionately impact low-income and underrepresented students.”
Despite these admissions, the suit alleges the organization “offered no acceptable remedies to students whose lack of digital access prevented them from fairly testing,” nor did it offer solutions to students who say they experienced glitches during the remote testing—which the suit alleges was not uncommon. Figures cited by the lawsuit estimate that anywhere between 5 and 20 percent of students who took AP exams in the first three days experienced problems submitting their responses, a situation that could not only hurt their scores but also compound stress while taking the exam. Some, the suit alleges, weren’t able to log on to take the exams at all.
A spokesperson for the College Board did not immediately return a request for comment.
AP exams are important because they can help students test out of lower-level college courses, which ultimately save those students thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. But the issue extends beyond AP exams, as college entrance exams like the SATs, canceled for May and June, will resume later in the summer. Despite these issues, the College Board has said it plans to make SAT testing “available in school and out of school as soon as the public health situation allows.”
“We know students and educators are worried about how the coronavirus may disrupt the college admissions process, and we want to do all we can to help alleviate that anxiety during this very demanding time,” Coleman said in a statement last month. “Our first principle with the SAT and all our work must be to keep families and students safe. The second principle is to make the SAT as widely available as possible for students who wish to test, regardless of the economic or public health circumstances.”
The suit says that “this year’s AP exam administration makes it perfectly clear that until the technical issues, the digital divide and other inequities are adequately addressed,” exams cannot continue.
[h/t Timothy Burke]