Frustrations With AP Testing

Students say they can't submit their test answers. UPDATE: College Board changes submission system.

May 18, 2020
 
iStock.com/fizkes

On Tuesday night, after the second day of this year's Advanced Placement tests, the first ever given remotely, the College Board issued a statement to the press:

"Across today’s exams, approximately 640,000 students tested, representing more than 88 percent of students who registered to take these exams at the start of their AP courses this year … Given the wide variety of devices and browsers students are using, we anticipated that a small percentage of students would encounter technical difficulties. We have a makeup window in June, so students have another opportunity to test. Thus far, less than 1 percent of the more than 1 million students who tested encountered technical difficulties."

To students whose tests were rejected by the College Board's computer systems, however, the test system is not working.

Here's an email account from one parent:

"My daughter, a high school junior, studied for hours for her AP Calc exam. She followed College Board's instructions to the letter -- using a new MacBook Air provided by our town's high school, and a new iPhone provided by her parents -- to write out the answers to the questions, take a photo of the answers, and then upload them to CB's server. Moments after hitting 'submit,' she received a message telling her that her submission could not be received and that she would have to take a makeup test in three weeks. Distraught by what happened, and particularly anxious about upcoming AP tests this week, she is currently in bed -- not attending the online classes her high school cobbled together for her. It took close to two hours on hold for a clueless customer service rep to tell her that 'the server issues will be fixed by Friday,' and telling her to take a makeup in three weeks."

He went on to say, "There is a partial fix that is easy and straightforward -- those photos are date- and time-stamped. Affected students should be allowed to re-upload their answers. At no point has anyone offered a refund … College Board was deafeningly silent in the face of this failure."

This year's AP tests are being given at home and are much shorter (45 minutes as opposed to three hours) because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A counselor from a California high school wrote that "students at my school received error messages when submitting their AP Calculus responses telling them they now have to sign up for makeup testing, which is very frustrating and stressful. Then, when you click the link to sign up for the makeup testing, it gives you an error message stating the CB server is taking too long to respond and it kicks students out. I’ve also tried calling a variety of numbers to try and get answers and ALL of them lead to a busy signal."

A parent whose son took the AP Calculus test in New England wrote, "Our son took the AP Calculus test this week. When he tried to submit the test, all he saw on-screen was a spinning wheel and was unable to upload anything. After doing a little asking around in our community and reading a few articles, it appears up to 10 percent of students testing were affected. We called The College Board and were told his only recourse is to take a make-up test on June 1 … We paid a lot of money for the AP tests. Not only are they condensed versions, we are not guaranteed that our child will even be scored. Thousands of college credit hour dollars are at stake for families. We may miss out on the opportunity to test out of college classes through no fault of our own. We have held up our end of the bargain, The College Board has not."

An online petition signed by more than 16,000 people says, "My dear friend Natalie and I are two of thousands of AP students who weren't able to submit our AP exams due to a malfunction in the College Board website. We've worked hard all year to learn and earn some college credit so we can have a head start and make sure we can graduate college on time or early. We've studied hard for the last few weeks and were looking forward to earning some college credit today. Now we might have to retake our tests several weeks from now or lose our chance to get college credit."

When the College Board posted on Twitter that 99 percent of test takers were fine and added that "we took a closer look and found that outdated browsers were a primary cause of these challenges," it unleashed a flood of criticism that other reasons may have been at play. One response: "Given that more than 15 percent of my school ALONE had similar issues as me, waiting for the buffering of the submit button after successfully uploading pics/all work, this statistic makes absolutely NO SENSE."

UPDATE: The College Board announced a new system would be in place this week, under which students unable to submit directly may immediately email their answers.

FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing reported receiving dozens of complaints about problems with the AP tests, which continue for 10 more days.

Many of those frustrated by the test submission process noted that the system failed on them when they were done with the exam, so they did the work but will receive no credit.

The College Board released a statement that said that more than 456,000 students took exams on Wednesday and that, again, "less than 1 percent [were] unable to submit their responses."

As to students who couldn't submit, the statement said, "We share the deep disappointment of students who were unable to complete their exam -- whether for technical issues or other reasons. We’re working to understand these students’ unique circumstances in advance of the June makeup exams. Any student who encountered an issue during their exam will be able to retest."

The statement said, "Some students told us they had trouble cutting and pasting their responses. We found that outdated browsers on students’ devices were associated with these difficulties, and so we reminded students to update their browsers to the latest version. And today, we saw a decrease in both outdated browsers and copy-paste issues. Some students indicated they didn’t remember seeing a screen telling them they completed their exam. We’ve made that screen more prominent and are encouraging students to take a screen grab of the page so they have a record of their exam."

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