For the second year in a row, students will take AP exams from home. What a year ago was shocking, novel and “unprecedented” has become the new normal.
AP Tests to be online regardless of COVID tier
On Feb. 23, the administration announced that all AP tests this spring will be administered digitally except foreign language exams that are required to be administered in person. The decision was made based on the insufficient resources available at Rio to accommodate current health guidelines at the county and state levels.
“Given the current health guidelines we didn’t have the resources to provide in-person testing safely and part of that is if we’re in person or in hybrid learning, we don’t have the space on campus to hold testing at the same time because there isn’t enough room to social distance that many kids on campus,” Vice Principal Jennifer Dalton said, adding that the plans for AP testing are final this year and will remain the same regardless of whether school is taking place in a distance learning or hybrid model.
Despite the challenges of space and sanitation requirements, the administration has had to find ways to accommodate paper and pencil foreign language tests that will take place at the beginning of May.
Smaller numbers of language exams and numbers of students in each class make administering those tests more feasible than something like an AP English class which has almost three times the students enrolled. Principal Brian Ginter says that social distancing, cleaning, sanitation and PPE protocol will all be in place for in-person testing, although the location has yet to be determined.
“The best I can tell about location right now is we have to use pretty much every room that’s around here to do the social distancing the way we’re supposed to, we even have to use the PAC and library for classrooms,” Ginter said. “Most likely as we look for places to do these exams it’s probably going to be in the gymnasiums.”
New format raises questions on preparation, security
Senior Fei Dias, a student in AP French in addition to other AP classes, says that the uncertainty of AP testing this spring has caused a lot of stress and made it hard for students to prepare to be successful.
“When I first found out that we were taking language exams in person I thought it was unfair because my class was expecting that we would take it online this year,” Dias said about the announcement being different than what students were prepared for. “I think it’s unfair because the other AP exams are still online.”
Sophomore Ava Diedrich shares similar concerns, saying that the format and reduced class times have increased her stress as a first-time AP tester.
“I’m a lot more worried for my AP tests this year than I think I would have been in normal circumstances because of how much less class time we’ve had; I’m scared that as we get closer to the tests I’ll have to teach myself some of the content,” Diedrich said. “I’m also nervous about not knowing what platform we’re doing them on and how that will work or the best ways to study having never taken an AP test before.”
In addition concerns about preparation for exams of many different formats comes questions about test security and the ability of an online exam to provide the same opportunity for a fair and secure testing environment for students.
College Board has purposely designed the 2021 exams with security in mind to provide the most equitable testing environment possible for students. First and foremost, all exams will be full-length to test students’ knowledge in a variety of ways and will start simultaneously to prevent questions from being leaked.
Students will also be unable to return to previous questions or toggle back and forth between unanswered questions and there won’t be questions that could be answered with an internet search or textbooks. Finally, there will also be monitoring to prevent use of unauthorized aids and post-exam plagiarism software to detect violations.
Senior Joseph Fahn says the format of the tests is the biggest issue and some of the security measures will interfere with students’ abilities to succeed on challenging tests.
“Personally, I love the ability to check my answers and make sure I did not make a careless error or misread the question,” Fahn said of the challenges the format presents to his individual testing strategy. On security, Fahn says, “ I still think that students are going to find ways to use notes, study guides, cheat sheets, and other sources but the requirement for us to be on camera was destroyed by teachers and administrators across the country and thankfully we won’t be watched for three hours behind our screens.”
Testing accommodations still available
Even from home, students who are approved for accommodations will still receive those for AP tests when necessary. Each spring, administrators and AP coordinators submit necessary accommodations to College Board, most of which are extra time, to ensure that all students receive necessary modifications. This will remain the same in the digital format.
Counselor Shari Gauthier says that students with IEPs, 504 plans, or other accommodations are not forgotten in an online format, even if it seems less personal than an in-person format.
“Students with disabilities approved by College Board will have those accommodations built into the digital versions just like last year and if they happen to be taking a paper-and-pencil language exam they would just be given the extra time and everything,” said Gauthier.
Because of the variety of formats and dates offered by College Board, some exams are only available in Administration 3, the last set of test dates, in June after the last day of school and senior graduation. These dates were scheduled through College Board, and the administration did not have control over those dates as they were not coordinated with the SJUSD calendar.
“I know that some people are upset or frustrated with the dates and/or format and we totally understand those frustrations,” Dalton said. “But unfortunately we are just working within the parameters we’ve been given from College Board, the country and state guidelines; these aren’t solely decisions that Rio has made, we are just working under the parameters we’ve been given.”
Some other schools in the area may offer earlier in-person testing so if students were interested in pursuing testing in another location, they would have to check through College Board and then speak with that location in order to switch. Ginter said there’s nothing stopping students from looking for another location to take tests but ultimately it’s up to the testing site to be lenient and allow the student to make that change.
“A lot of times when we have tests on campus every other year we have kids that call us from other schools that aren’t offering tests and we get them registered through our system to be able to take tests so it’s not something that’s impossible to do,” Ginter said. “But we’ve been very lenient with folks in the past to let that happen, but some schools could prevent it from happening so it could be tough to find a location that would let you do it in-person.”
Because of all of the stress and uncertainty surrounding this year’s testing, College Board has waived all cancellation fees on exams this year in case students want to cancel, but ultimately it is up to each student whether or not they want to take the test. Ginter advises that students look into the colleges and universities they want to attend or apply to and see how they use AP exams to determine whether taking the tests is a good option for that individual student.
Much remains unknown about exactly what will happen logistically with in-person and virtual testing and communications will continue to be sent out to families through emails, phone calls, and announcements on the Rio website.
“I’m putting together communication right now as to the schedule and things that are happening in the next few weeks so people should continue to look at their emails and watch for updates on the website,” Ginter said, encouraging students to remain engaged and continue preparing for their tests, whatever that may mean.