Students sue to avoid AP test retakes after glitches

CAROLYN THOMPSON

High school students who were blocked by technical issues from submitting their completed online Advanced Placement exams sued Wednesday demanding their work be counted. The executive who oversees the program said they likely would have to retake the tests instead.

About 15,550 of the more than 3 million timed tests taken at home during the past two weeks resulted in errors, according to data provided by the College Board.

Students have publicly shared their anger and frustration at watching the clock run out while they frantically tried to submit responses.

Mika Newey got a series of increasingly upsetting texts from her daughter, Claire, as the 17-year-old tried seven or eight times to upload an AP English essay from their Hobbs, New Mexico home last week:

“Mom, I finished the test. I thought I did real good. It won't submit.”

“It won't submit. It won't go through."

And finally, "I'm going to have to retake the test.”

“I was freaking out. It was very stressful,” Claire Newey said by phone, adding she took AP government and calculus exams with no trouble on previous days.

Students who score well enough on the College Board's AP exams have a chance to earn college credit. The three-hour exams are typically taken on paper in school but were quickly redesigned as 45-minute online exams when the coronavirus shut down schools and put a halt to large gatherings.

College Board President David Coleman said he understands the frustration of those who couldn’t submit their results but said no student has lost the chance at college credit.

“The worst recourse is that they will have to retest,” he said by phone, noting security issues surrounding accepting work saved by students last week.

“We are looking at everything we can do to see if there’s any submitted work that we can grade and score," he said.

“The only thing that would stop us is not some bureaucratic inflexibility or a cold heart. .... We just have to work within the limits of our secure procedures,” he said.

The technical problems, Coleman said, appeared to arise from students working on older devices with outdated browsers or newer smartphones that made it difficult for them to upload photos of their written responses.

The issues affected half of 1% of tests, the College Board said.

Students testing this week have been given the backup option of submitting answers through email, and customer service and makeup requests have decreased.

Mika Newey said that took the pressure off of her daughter this week but wondered why such a safety net was not available from the start.

Despite the shift to computer testing, a slightly higher percentage of students completed the exams through the first seven days of testing than in a typical year, the College Board said.

A class-action lawsuit demands the College Board accept the time-stamped answers of students who could not submit them last week instead of requiring re-testing in June. The suit also seeks more than $500 million in damages from the not-for-profit College Board and Educational Testing Service, which administers the tests, claiming, among other things, breach of contract, negligence and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The first week of the 2020 AP exams revealed the deep digital divide among AP test-takers, and it became clear how the revised exam format disproportionately impacted certain groups of students, including those who are underresourced, who lack access to technology or quiet workspaces, students with disabilities, and students testing in non-ideal time zones,” according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in California.

Along with students and families, the suit was filed by the nonprofit National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest, which targets the misuse of standardized tests. FairTest interim Executive Director Bob Schaeffer and the plaintiffs’ attorneys accused the College Board of rushing out the computerized exams to preserve revenue. Students or schools pay about $94 per test.

“This is inexcusable in light of the unprecedented challenges faced by students and their families this year,” Los Angeles attorney Phillip Baker and attorney Marci Lerner Miller of Newport Beach, California, said in a written statement.

The College Board’s general counsel, Peter Schwartz, said it would vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit, which he called factually wrong and legally baseless.

“This lawsuit is a PR stunt masquerading as a legal complaint being manufactured by an opportunistic organization that prioritizes media coverage for itself,” Schwartz said in a statement.

ETS did not immediately comment.