(Editors Note: Part 1 of this story dealt with the issue students and teachers faced with the recently administered AP Tests.)
HASBROUCK HEIGHTS/WOOD-RIDGE, NJ - Certain exams worked a little differently.
Art classes are required to submit portfolios of their work to the College Board. Being at home may have affected students’ availability to materials, but their portfolio due dates were extended.
“The deadline for the portfolio was extended, and we have to submit less works, but I fear being out of school has affected the quality of a lot of my works," said one Hasbrouck Heights senior who asked to remain anonymous. "I mainly draw ideas and inspiration from my friends and being in a creative environment, and without my teacher to guide me in person communicating over email about what had to be done was challenging.”
For language exams, students had to use a College Board issued application for spoken parts of their exams.
“Honestly the app worked fine. It was extremely nerve racking. It worked fine, and the video explained it well. But I feel like it wasn’t enough," said Christina Vazquez, a Wood-Ridge senior. "It didn’t encompass enough of what I learned. My entire year should not have been summed up in a two-minute speech. I feel like I was completely robbed of my chance to do well. I was severely underprepared for this test. We did not prepare for the pronunciation yet in class, so I really had to teach myself how to prepare for it.”
Some students shared similar concerns and voiced that the variety of different subjects offered by the Advanced Placement Program did not reflect the variety of testing.
“I think the 45-minute online testing was only beneficial for some subjects," said Maria Tevletidis, a Wood-Ridge senior and class Valedictorian. "I took three AP tests, AP Calculus AB, AP English Literature, and AP Spanish. For Spanish, I feel as though I wasn’t tested on enough to fully show what I have learned over the year. I also hated how I had to take my Spanish exam on an app on my phone, and that we were only tested on one aspect of the entire class. For English and Calc, I liked the format a lot more and felt that the questions were much easier than the ones asked on the original versions of the test.”
Some students feel that they benefited from these shorter exams.
“I feel like the 45 minutes of online testing was beneficial, as it was certainly less exhausting than the regular 2-hour long exams," observed Michael Kaseman, a Wood-Ridge, junior. "However, I am concerned with the fact that the entirety of your year within the class is held within one or two questions. The whole purpose of an AP exam is to encompass everything you retained throughout the year, and only a few questions doesn’t embody that.”
Others cannot say the same.
“Reviewing at home certainly has a different feel to it than in school with a teacher, and motivation to do so came and went. The fact that this will be different than any other year was also a huge point of stress for me,” an anonymous Hasbrouck Heights senior explained. “The 45 minutes were definitely my Achilles’ heel during the testing. As someone who is on the slower side when it comes to doing problems and writing things out, I knew I would either submit my work unfinished or hand in work that isn’t the best because I was so pressed for time. The first question was doable in the time allotted (25 minutes with five minutes to submit) even if there were more sections to do than we were used to. The second question, however, felt like an impossible task (15 minutes with five to submit.)”
Van Dam acknowledged a similar sentiment.
“The 45-minute, at home, online testing period was far shorter than the traditional test time and may have benefited the student who typically ‘lost momentum' during a longer test," said Van Dam. "Ironically, the 45 minutes is what we have in class each day, so they were all acclimated and conditioned to perform within that set time. Far more impactful was the limiting of the test to only one of the four tasks. Only time and the students' scores will reveal whether this year's test was ‘easier or harder’, and even that is not really accurate since each year has a different group of test takers, each with their own abilities and strengths.”
Still, despite efforts put in place, the validity of the test has been questioned by many.
“I personally believe that this year’s AP exams should have been void. I understand that students want and deserve an opportunity for college credit for the classes they took," said Kaseman. "However, there are too many ways to cheat, which should make the exams invalid. I am glad to hear that the College Board is using plagiarism detection software, however, I still believe there are ways around it. For example, if someone were to have an older brother that is back home from college, who majors in computer science, if he were to take the exam for that student, how would the plagiarism detection software find this out?”
Some Hasbrouck Heights students echoed the criticism.
“I feel that this situation could’ve been handled better. I know that this has never happened before but giving students 20 minutes to read a question and upload the answer is not enough time," said one Hasbrouck Heights senior. "They say it’s ‘45 minutes’ but it’s not at least for my two AP exams they weren’t.”
And on top of it, some students felt that absence from the classroom hurt them as well.
“I feel like I did okay on my AP exams. However, I would be more prepared if I had the ability to learn and review with my teachers at a school setting, which unfortunately did not happen,” Ayushi Patel, Wood-Ridge junior said.
For some tests, though, being out of school did not hurt because the topics covered had already been done in class; but not being in class did have its effects.
“Our class started the year with rhetorical analysis essays, so at the time school closed students had already been taught strategies and had written many essays,” Kimberly Millar, WRHS AP Language and Composition teacher, said. “They were really working on fine-tuning things in their essays. The most difficult thing was not seeing students in a classroom environment for instruction and having to give feedback by email. I also had to preview the webinars provided by the College Board to generate lessons geared toward the new exam.”
Others recognize the good intentions and opportunities by testing this year.
“I believe the College Board had good intentions but they should’ve realistically known that this probably would not have worked out. Maybe they should’ve taken more time to develop their website so it’d work 100%. Either way I hope they take it easy on the students this year and give us as much credit as possible,” Vazquez, explained.
Still, other students said that different types of tests worked successfully though these new platforms.
“I feel like 45 minutes was at times stressful, but being that we got to type I feel that it gave me a sense of security knowing that I’d be able to write and check over my essays before submissions because we weren’t spending all of the time handwriting. However, I did find that 45 minutes was hard for computations like math or computer science because it’s not as straightforward as writing an essay or DBQ [Document Based Question] is,” Natalie Cala, a Wood-Ridge junior said.
Laura Czekaj, former Hasbrouck Heights AP Literature and Composition teacher for 18 years and AP Language and Composition teacher for eight years, was also an AP Literature and Composition grader for five years. In 2006, she participated in Exam Reading in Daytona Beach, FL and then from 2007 to 2010 in Louisville, KY, where she and hundreds of other volunteers spent hours grading papers. She shared her view on this year’s online exams with TAPinto and the different grading rubric that was issued out of six points for AP Lang and AP Lit, in opposition to the nine point rubric that she had been accustomed to in her years of experience with the Advanced Placement Program English classes.
“Unfortunately, I am sad that AP exams are online, not live in a classroom. One 45 minute essay? Crazy. A new rubric? It’s more precise, I suppose, and simplifies the grading, but it’s just a bit too either/or," she said. "I understand the horrors of this pandemic, and that the exam had to be done online. Yet if you Google the problems this online testing has started to generate, you have to be concerned.”
“Mr. Van Dam got an email from AP seeking readers to grade the online essays. He asked me to dive in -- yet when I searched their website, they were only looking for actual classroom teachers, not retired teachers. Considering that the Lit and Lang exams have multiple versions, I’m just as happy not to participate.”
Controversy and What’s to Come
Allegations against this form of AP testing have come under fire as lawsuits against the College Board have been filed around the country. According to an education blog, Diane Ravitch’s Blog, “The lawsuit, dated Tuesday, says that students’ inability to submit answers was the fault of the exam creators, and it charges that the College Board engaged in a number of ‘illegal activities,’ including breach of contract, gross negligence, misrepresentation and violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It also seeks more than $500 million in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages.” Allegedly, a group of blind students has also filed lawsuits for accommodations unable to be met for them through online testing platforms.
In the end, students will have a chance for retesting and the opportunity to achieve college credit for their year of work, despite possible challenges. Students who successfully submitted should receive their scores in July.
“I understand, as a teacher that is attempting to create online assessments that have validity and integrity, that there are multiple challenges to giving an online assessment," said Van Dam. "The singular task and shorter testing time (one prose analysis essay in 45 minutes versus 55 multiple choice and three essays in three hours) definitely narrowed the material and skills assessed. This may have benefited some who were weaker in a non-assessed area and may have hurt some who had a strength that was not assessed."
"Many of my students are very strong multiple choice test takers and have developed a critical eye for this type of assessment. Their strength was not assessed. Part of the traditional test was also the ‘endurance’ tested in which the student performed multiple tasks and demonstrated various skills, in a three-hour sitting," Van Dam continued. "The 2020 test was much more of a sprint and favored certain students. The fact that there were multiple prose samples also is a realistic concession to limit cheating, but opens up questions as to the fairness and the reliability of the scoring. Without seeing the students' performances and scores, I trust that the prepared, motivated, and skilled student still performed as expected.”
Millar admires the hard work from her students this year in facing the adversity of the shift in their AP classes.
“I just want to add that I am thankful I had the opportunity to work with such a wonderful group of students this year. Their drive to continue to do better, their admirable work ethic, and their ability to overcome this year's challenges, makes me so proud of them,” said Millar.
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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