Students express their diapproval of the College Board's AP tests. (Illustration by Kailyn Thai)
Fountain Valley High School

Opinion: The College Board screwed up big time on the 2020 AP exams

College Board, which owns the SAT and Advanced Placement Program, has long been seen as a monopolistic and corrupt organization. Its dark and greedy side has only been amplified through its administration of the 2020 AP exams during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AP exams shouldn’t have been held this year to begin with.

The exams are already beyond stressful during normal circumstances and are even more burdensome for students who are juggling the stress of distance learning, care for elderly relatives and younger siblings, financial and housing insecurity, food shortages and other issues caused by COVID-19.

College Board failed to seriously consider the inequity of testing conditions as well. Many students across the nation don’t have laptops or computers, access to high-speed Internet and quiet places to work when they’re at home, nor were there accommodations for those with disabilities, according to blind students who filed complaints against the College Board.

To prevent cheating and ensure test security, the organization arranged for all tests to be taken at the exact same time. For international students, this means taking exams during their bedtime hours. In response to negative reactions from international students, teachers and parents, the College Board merely acknowledged it was an unfortunate reality and did nothing more.

College Board produced flawed AP exams. 

Millions of students, both nationwide and abroad, spent an average of seven months preparing to take traditional AP exams, which are on paper, several hours long, comprised of multiple-choice and free-response sections and held in proctored venues. This year’s AP exams, however, were 45 minutes long with one to two free-response questions constituting 100% of scores.

These exams tested a fraction of the AP curriculum, which was also cut short due to school closures. How, then, can this year’s AP scores possibly be an accurate reflection of students’ mastery of college-level material? The scores are invalid; students’ grades in their AP courses would do a far better job of assessing their knowledge and academic performance.

The administration of the AP exams was poorly planned and testing software was premature.

According to the College Board, about 2% of approximately 50,000 AP Physics C students couldn’t submit their AP exams on the first day of testing. That’s about 1,000 students. College Board then tweeted: “We anticipated that a small percentage of students would encounter technical difficulties.”

Technology is finicky, but it’s downright infuriating that College Board proceeded with flawed testing software and that their only solution was to offer make-up exams in June. It’s even more upsetting that they continuously responded to complaints with apathy. College Board “took a closer look and blamed students who had submission issues for having outdated browsers. Why don’t you take “a closer look” at your testing software?

College Board rolled out a revised testing plan by allowing week-two AP exams to be submitted through a secure email if students could not submit through the testing site, but that’s still unfair to the week-one students who have to retake a test next month for an issue that wasn’t their fault.

It also needs to be noted that the College Board decided to allow email submissions because of public outrage. This backup option should’ve been implemented before AP testing began; College Board even admitted technical difficulties were expected to occur. The organization doesn’t care about students’ well-being, and only created this grace period as a way to save face and avoid controversy.

College Board’s methods to prevent cheating are legally questionable. 

Prior to the exams, Trevor Packer, Vice President of the College Board, tweeted that the organization had discovered a student “cheating ring.” College Board did not specify how these students were caught, but there is public speculation of several alarming and overreaching efforts of College Board to ensure test security

Many social media users have speculated that the College Board created bot accounts on Reddit and Twitter. One of the more notable schemes these users have alleged is the Reddit account “Dinosauce313” linked to the “AP Test” subreddit meant to bait students into cheating.

A spokesperson for College Board denied that the organization is setting up fake social media accounts, according to the media outlet Vulture. It needs to be noted, however, that College Board’s AP exam security page states College Board “may post content designed to confuse and deter those who attempt to cheat.”

This can be considered entrapment because the College Board is tricking students into cheating, which is an academic “crime” and would disqualify students’ scores. And given that the internet is a resource that students are allowed to use during the exam, why attempt to punish and sabotage them for using Google? Why put the time and money into baiting students instead of fixing their testing software?

It’s time to put an end to the College Board’s monopolization of American education. 

If the College Board’s corruption and greediness weren’t obvious before the 2020 AP exams, they sure are now. Their lack of empathy for students’ health and well-being amid this pandemic is appalling, but not surprising.

While the organization did allow students to receive full refunds for their exams (which is the bare minimum but the most generous thing College Board has and will ever do), the most responsible solution would’ve been to cancel all AP exams and adopt a more holistic assessment as the International Baccalaureate Programme did.

The fact is that College Board could’ve figured out a better plan than a 45-minute exam. The people who create AP exams aren’t airheads. Students could’ve created portfolios of their work or crafted a cumulative project. There are so many better ways to assess student mastery of college-level material, but the other fact is that College Board isn’t willing to sacrifice its revenue by refunding AP exams and instead took the easy way out.

This time, they’re not getting away with it. Public criticism has increased and people are acting legally. Last Tuesday, lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against the organization on behalf of students who experienced technical difficulties. Another group of blind students filed a complaint against the College Board for getting rid of its accommodations for the visually impaired.

The one good thing to come out of the 2020 AP exams is the massive backlash and pressure College Board is facing. It’s difficult to not support the organization because of the monopoly they have over our education system and college admissions, but this is the beginning of the end for the College Board.