HASBROUCK HEIGHTS/WOOD-RIDGE, NJ - High school students in Wood-Ridge and Hasbrouck Heights participated with millions of students across the country in taking the College Board’s 2020 Advanced Placement (AP) Program exams during a two-week span in mid-May. But many students were unable to successfully complete the test due to technical issues.
These courses, which traditionally had three-hour written tests, were given this year through 45 minute online platforms. With the scale of testing being grades one to five, with three being a passing grade, these courses allow for students with appropriate scores to obtain credit for college classes.
As schools shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic across the United States, the College Board, the non-profit organization that also administers SAT exams, faced a decision on what to do with the AP exams for the year. International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, a similar type of testing that gives college credits, were canceled for the year. But a poll put out by the College Board to a sample of AP students, found that 91% of students said that they would want to take testing for the year. Despite controversy over that poll itself, due to people claiming that the terminology of the poll was “vague” (it’s 'no testing' option was perceived by many as an "I will personally opt out of the test" option), an anonymous Heights senior who was in the random sampled group, did not share this opinion.
“I received an email and responded to the survey. As for the survey being ‘vague’, I can't relate. I thought it was very concise and to the point; there didn't seem to be any room for depth,” one anonymous Hasbrouck Heights senior said. “It was just a couple of questions like 'do you plan on taking AP exams,' 'how would you prefer taking the exam (all multiple choice, all free response or mixed).”
Testing for 2020 did not include Multiple Choice (MC) questions, but instead only offered parts of Free Response Questions (FRQ). On March 23, the College Board announced that they were going to offer online exams for the Advanced Placement Program. Additionally, exams did not include later units of AP class curriculums because the organization saw it better to only test students on what a majority had learned in the classroom earlier in the year. Answers were to be submitted by uploading a photo of work, uploading a document, or a copy and paste option into the testing platform. Testing was also deemed “open notes” this year. The organization also utilized YouTube and posted videos for parts of each course curriculum for students to refer to.
“Once the College Board identified the nature of the online AP Lit test, I began to make the written analysis of a prose text our class focus," said John Van Dam, Hasbrouck Heights High School AP Literature and Composition teacher, said. "Students taking the test were also directed to take advantage of the YouTube AP Lit classes that focused on the analysis of a prose text. As a teacher I also provided different online testing formats to prepare the students to manage their time and to negotiate different online tools and tasks. This was definitely a situation where I ‘taught’ to the test.”
Wood-Ridge had 48 total students take the exams (this does not account for students who took multiple exams), and did not allow for opt-outs. According to Vincent Aiello, Supervisor of Guidance, Hasbrouck Heights had 67 students enrolled to take 108 AP individual exams (because many students take multiple AP exams). Out of this 108, 86 exams were taken and 22 exams were opted out of. The 86 exams taken included students who took more than one test.
As testing began on May 11, Twitter and other social media platforms were swarmed with posts from students having trouble submitting tests stating that they were told that they had to retake their exams on a date in June.
“Approximately 50,000 students to today’s AP Physics C: Mechanics exam. 98% submitted their responses, while approximately 2% encountered issues attempting to submit their work,” the College Board responded via its Twitter account.
“Given the wide variety of devices, browsers, and versions students are using, we anticipated that a small percentage of students would encounter technical difficulties, and we have a makeup window in June so students have another opportunity to test,” stated another follow-up tweet.
These decisions brought the College Board under fire from people who thought it was wrong for the company to continue testing if they expected problems. Still, others commended them for their efforts. The second week of testing, an option to submit answers via email was offered.
“As an educator that has seen many different types of new exams over the years, I am impressed with the detail and organization that went into creating this AP administration," said Laura Panigua, Wood-Ridge High School Guidance Counselor said. "As with any new exam procedure, there is always a margin of error that could have not been foreseen however in the amount of time College Board was given to develop and implement this examination, I am pleasantly surprised and pleased with how it turned out.”
It was not only Wood-Ridge and Hasbrouck Heights students who reported technical difficulties Aiello issued a poll to report difficulties to Hasbrouck Heights staff and students. As of May 28, out of eight of Hasbrouck Heights teachers who responded, four reported technical difficulties; three resulted in problems being fixed and one reported a student having to retake an exam. Of the 19 students that had responded to the poll, five reported some type of problem; four were able to be solved by themselves; one reported having to make up a test. There are at least two known exams that need to be made up.
“I had an awful first AP exam experience," said one Hasbrouck Heights junior. "For the first part of the AP Chemistry exam I was able to smoothly do the questions and finish my work, but when I attempted to submit, none of my files were able to show up. I was beyond infuriated because I knew that I would have gotten a decent score with the exam I had taken, but now I have to take the exam again, with different questions.”
Wood-Ridge reported three incidents of students having trouble submitting, according to Panigua.
“I took three AP exams this year. I took the Calculus AB, English Literature, and Statistics," said Toral Patel, a Wood-Ridge senior. "Two of them went smoothly. However, the server crashed for me when I was taking my Calculus exam. I was already stressed out for this exam, and it didn’t help that the server crashed. Now I have to wait for the College Board to get back to me to see if I can take a makeup exam. This didn’t only happen to me. It happened to students all over the country. I just wish the College Board was more organized with their online platforms.” .
Patel even got some attention on Twitter after tweeting a meme about problems with submission on AP Calculus AB.
Luckily for some, like Anurag Pratap, Hasbrouck Heights senior and Valedictorian, their submission problems were ones that they were able to work through.
“Personally this year, the exams were more about uncertainty and anxiety post-test than about stress about preparing for them," he said. "There were many content-based support available, but minimal information about the grading/platform. I did not have any issues during my first two tests, but my third test was not the greatest: my test would not submit in the final five minutes, and after I tried opening it on a new tab it finally submitted with a few seconds remaining. Those were my final moments of any testing with The College Board -- and much like every experience, it gave me a rush of headache and unearthed some vile sentiments against them.”
(Editor's Note: Part 2 of this story will appear Saturday.)
Editor’s Note: Emily Condon is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the “Pilot’s Log,” Hasbrouck Heights High School's newspaper. In addition, she is a member of the Student Council, Junior Executive Board, the Black Hole, head organizer of Spirit Week, co-organizer of the Junior Formal with History teacher Catherine Cassidy, and member of the indoor and outdoor Track and Field teams
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