The Opinion of the Smoke Signal Editorial Board
A year ago, the shelter-in-place order due to the COVID-19 pandemic brought several aspects of our daily lives to a grinding halt — family gatherings, sporting events, and for many students, standardized testing. In the midst of unprecedented school closures across the country, the 2020 AP Exams were shortened to fully digital free-response evaluations. As the 2021 exams loom ahead of us, the College Board released their AP testing schedule in mid-March, revealing online and in-person versions of full-length tests, with each test intended to be executed differently. With MSJ not allowing most exams to be taken in person, these changes expose the inequity of AP testing that impacts students with compromised educations and hardships brought by the pandemic.
Taking COVID-19 guidelines into account and learning from the challenges with last year’s tests, the College Board will be offering each test thrice over three different administrations, from early May to early June, and each school administration will pick from those three for their school. But since the in-person testing can only be held at schools whose campuses are open, MSJ will conduct all AP exams, except the language and music theory exams, digitally.
Students are not allowed to choose their own testing dates, with the decision of testing dates falling to school administration. Students do not have a say in which of the three administrations are the most convenient for them, allowing no flexibility in the midst of a pandemic. MSJ is offering most of its tests during the second administration except the math, physics, and chemistry tests, which will take place on June 9 and June 10 — during the third administration. With these AP exams taking place right around the time of finals, many students will be forced to balance both AP testing and finals simultaneously, possibly worsening how students perform on the test and causing an undue amount of stress. Not only that, but seniors who have already lost their last year of high school to the pandemic will have to take AP tests on June 9 and June 10, the last day and day after school ends, respectively — not a great way to close off a year that has been nothing but tiring, isolating, and hard to learn any new material in.
Last year, AP exams were more reasonable as they were adapted for the unusual learning situation we had been thrown into. This year, even though most students across the country are still learning online, the College Board has decided to revert back to the full-length tests that were conducted with in-person learning.
What worsens the issue of online testing is that this year’s digital tests will be designed differently. In implementing these modifications, the College Board is unfairly making online tests more difficult than in-person tests. According to the College Board’s Digital Testing Guide, “to prevent students from gaining an unfair advantage, digital exams will not include questions that can be answered with internet searches, textbooks, notes, study guides, or similar material.” If questions cannot be answered with information in textbooks, then what will the exam cover? How will students study for exam questions whose creators have themselves said cannot be answered with textbook information? Additionally, taking AP exams online, as most MSJ students may have to do, means students cannot go back and forth between questions, making it far more stressful than in-person testing where students are allowed to jump to any question or skip and come back to a question during the multiple-choice portion to make the most of their time.
Further perpetuating this year’s issues with inequity are the new rules they have imposed on the type of device you need to take an AP exam. While the 2020 exams allowed students to take them on any device that is Wi-Fi compatible, students this year must have a computer. Because of the College Board’s decision to scale back accessibility with this restriction, less advantaged students without these digital resources will find themselves unable to take the test. Distance learning has already disproportionately affected the learning of disadvantaged students—by implementing these changes, the College Board is only compounding on these difficulties by making the digital exams more difficult and limiting access to the tests.
Yet, despite all of the inconvenient testing changes, students are still expected to pay full prices for their tests. Though AP exams are refundable for their full amount this year until the April 26 deadline as stated on www.totalregistration.net, the fact that students still need to pay a base fee of $95 to a supposedly non-profit organization that has shown no concern for them makes the entire process seem favored towards the College Board rather than students. Many students must make tough decisions regarding these issues in order to rise higher in their educational endeavors.
In a year where class disparities have become blatantly visible through education, family financial stability, job security, technology access during the pandemic to name a few, the College Board is doing nothing but exacerbating these problems through their lack of concern for students who can’t fulfill all the testing requirements.
Most MSJ students come from stable socioeconomic backgrounds, which enable them to pay for multiple AP exams in a normal year. However, families that are less-privileged and those struggling due to the pandemic’s impact on the economy will need to make tough decisions of whether or not their child can take the AP test based on financial standing — potentially causing long-term impacts on their children’s futures. If a student isn’t able to take the AP test and earn their credits, they may need to retake the class in college, depending on the college’s policy for accepting AP credit, which can lead to higher fees down the line.
The College Board must understand that their new AP testing system does not create a level playing field for all AP students to earn the credits they deserve. In addition to the College Board invalidating the obstacles students have been facing thus far, AP exam dates are not convenient to students, with some even clashing with finals and extending beyond the last day of school. It’s time for the College Board to overhaul the inequitable system that students will have to test by this year through redesigning the exams. This can be done through surveying teachers and students across the country in an effort to determine how much material has been covered on average and then rewriting the test to ensure that no student is left behind.
This year has been hard on both teachers and students, and a little flexibility from the College Board is a step towards overcoming the difficulties of our unusual learning environment.