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For the first time ever, students this year are taking Advanced Placement exams online and at home.

A group of high school students who were unable to submit their Advanced Placement exams earlier this month because of technical glitches are suing the College Board and demanding their tests still be graded so they aren’t forced to retake the exams next month. 

The class action lawsuit filed in federal court in California argues that the College Board, which sponsors the exams, should have done more to anticipate and prevent technical problems with the exams, which students are taking online this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. When the exams started last week, some students across the United States said they encountered technical glitches that prevented them from submitting their exams, though the College Board said this week that “less than 1%” of students were unable to submit their responses.

At least three of the student plaintiffs reside in California.

“Despite revenues of close to half a billion dollars a year from its AP program alone, the College Board failed to do what was necessary to make its at-home AP exams fair and accessible. This is inexcusable in light of the unprecedented challenges faced by students and their families this year,” the students’ attorneys Philip Baker and Marci Lerner Miller said in a statement. 

Baker is from the Los Angeles-based firm Baker, Keener & Nahra LLP and Miller is from Miller Advocacy Group, a firm based in Newport Beach, California. Those firms filed the lawsuit on behalf of several anonymous high school students and their parents. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a standardized test watchdog group known as FairTest, also is a plaintiff. 

The lawsuit claims the College Board ignored warnings that the online tests would discriminate against students with disabilities and students who lack access to the digital technology needed to take the at-home AP exams.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages of more than $500 million and are asking that their answers that they weren’t able to submit still be graded, rather than being forced to retake the tests. 

Peter Schwartz, general counsel for the College Board, dismissed the lawsuit as “baseless.”

“This lawsuit is a PR stunt masquerading as a legal complaint being manufactured by an opportunistic organization that prioritizes media coverage for itself. It is wrong factually and baseless legally; the College Board will vigorously and confidently defend against it, and expect to prevail,” Schwartz said in a statement. 

Advanced Placement exams allow students to earn college credits if they receive a passing score. In past years, the tests have been held at schools and students were given up to three hours to complete them. This year’s tests, which started last week and are continuing to be held this week, are completely online. 

Unlike past exams, this year’s tests don’t include multiple choice sections. The revised tests only include short essays and, for certain tests, math calculations. 

For exams with one question, students have 50 minutes to answer and submit their response. For exams with two questions, students get 30 minutes to answer and submit responses for the first question, and 20 minutes for the second. 

For each question, students are supposed to use the last five minutes to submit their work. Students have the option of completing their work on a device, or submitting photos of handwritten responses on paper. Some students who opted to use paper, including one mentioned in the lawsuit, weren’t able to submit their responses because their photos wouldn’t upload to the College Board website.

After some students said they were unable to submit their responses, the College Board announced this week that students can now submit their exams via email. But that’s only an option for students taking their tests this week, not students who took the exams last week and couldn’t submit their responses.

Students who can’t submit their exams will be offered makeup tests in June

The College Board has said that more than 99% of students have successfully submitted their exams and initially said that most technical problems were because those students were not using the latest versions of their internet browsers.

“When we embarked on the effort to offer AP Exams online, we created tools to help guide users through this new experience. After the first few days of testing, our data show the vast majority of students successfully completed their exams, with less than 1% unable to submit their responses,” the College Board said in a statement this week.

Llanet Zamora, a parent in Los Angeles County, wrote on Facebook last week that even though her son used a “brand new,” fully updated MacBook, he wasn’t able to submit his responses.

“My son has a brand new mac laptop with all updates and when he tried submitting his essay part of the exam, and still had enough time to do it, it didn’t let him,” Zamora wrote. “After several tries he couldn’t submit it anymore. Said he didn’t submit it on time. Not the student’s fault even when uploading something. There was obviously something else wrong.”

Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, said in a statement that “even if only 1%” of students were unable to submit their exams, “at least 20,000 students were affected.”

“The College Board rushed ‘untested’ AP computerized exams into the marketplace in order to preserve the testing company’s largest revenue-generating program after schools shut down this spring, even though they were warned about many potential access, technology and security problems,” he added.

The lawsuit also disputes the College Board’s claim that 99% of students successfully submitted their exams. “Anywhere between 5-20% of their AP test-takers were unable to submit their exam responses,” the lawsuit states, citing estimates by schools.

One unidentified AP Calculus teacher in the lawsuit, based in Santa Barbara, reported that three out of 13 students in her class “faced technical obstacles submitting their work” during the exams. One student “received an upload error message after the testing time had expired.” Another student’s screen froze, went blank and logged the student out as she attempted to submit her answers.

Another student quoted in the lawsuit said he “took all precautions” after hearing about technical problems but was still unable to submit his exam.

“I updated my computer, used Chrome because it was recommended by the College Board, sent my brother to my dad’s house so I wasn’t distracted during my test and made my family get off the WiFi so I could have the maximum potential my WiFi could give me,” he said.

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  1. Caroline Layne 2 months ago2 months ago

    My son had technical issues when it came to submitting his AP Chemistry exam. He was told to do the makeup test and again he had technical issues when trying to submit his answers. Now he has to take the exam for a third time!!!! What happens if there are technical issues on the 3rd exam?

  2. Abolish Money Hungry Collegeboard 2 months ago2 months ago

    I took AP Lang test, completed it with what would have been scored as a 4 or a 5. The format for turning it in, and the process was very confusing and much more complicated than it needs to be. With 2 minutes left, I tried to turn it in. It did not go through despite retrying over and over. Afterwards I was told that I could email it in. To do so it forced … Read More

    I took AP Lang test, completed it with what would have been scored as a 4 or a 5. The format for turning it in, and the process was very confusing and much more complicated than it needs to be. With 2 minutes left, I tried to turn it in. It did not go through despite retrying over and over. Afterwards I was told that I could email it in. To do so it forced me to download the Windows Mail application, Microsoft Word, and forced me to figure out how to download a Google Doc as a .docx format. Despite having to figure all of this out and download 3 items, I still managed to send the email just 10 minutes after the original test end time. I was informed I would receive an email response telling me if my test had been accepted in 2 days time.

    10 days later with no response, I called them and was met with a robot and the pathetic excuse that they couldn’t have agents to talk to because of “Covid-19.” The last time I heard, calling people is still possible during a pandemic. I called 3 more times, and finally talked to a human after 30 minutes on hold. Was told that they did’t know if they received my email, and couldn’t check because they didn’t have my AP ID. I gave them my AP ID and was told that they couldn’t check because they didn’t have my AP ID again.

    Extremely frustrated, I hung up on their pathetic excuse for “customer service.” For a multi-billion dollar “non-profit” corporation who robs poor high school students, their service is abominable.
    I emailed them. Three times. No response to any of my emails. Finally I gave up and tried to sign up for a retake. Was informed it was too late to sign up.

    This test has caused me so much stress, frustration, and money. There should be no reason to further monetize the college application process for the benefit of a millionaire CEO. The school system and students are not and should not be a business for these cold, unsympathetic, greedy bastards. Someone should really start a massive protest outside of their New York office location. Abolish College Board!

  3. Deanna Petty 3 months ago3 months ago

    My child never received a time for a make-up test. It was promised the week of May 25.

  4. jamie gonzalez 3 months ago3 months ago

    I myself am a student who also underwent the AP exams and had issues with submissions with both of my exams the first my APUSH exam. Before I fully disclose what happened let me start with the demo. I'm not sure why people are not talking about this more but before I took my AP exams I practiced on the demo on my laptop. I wrote my short response and took a picture with my … Read More

    I myself am a student who also underwent the AP exams and had issues with submissions with both of my exams the first my APUSH exam. Before I fully disclose what happened let me start with the demo. I’m not sure why people are not talking about this more but before I took my AP exams I practiced on the demo on my laptop.

    I wrote my short response and took a picture with my phone and downloaded that picture to my Google drive as a jpeg file and then pressed attach file and looked for my file and it was there in my recent section. Great. I practiced 3 or 4 times to make sure I had everything set and left content before exam day.

    This is what I don’t understand. Tell me why when I pressed attach file were my files not there in my recent. I had made sure to take a picture of each page after I wrote them downloading them as I continued to write so that I didn’t have to wait until the last minute. The worst part is that when I opened my files app on my laptop, all my files were perfectly downloaded but I couldn’t do anything about it because there wasn’t any way that I could send them. I tried various times but the actual exam did not act like the demo like College Board said and Ive been patient with College Board. I wrote them a comment regarding their demo and called several times but hear nothing and at this point I don’t know what to do.

    I’ve never felt as helpless as I did then and I am done with College Board for causing me so much stress both mentally and physically and I hope that someone sees this and makes this pubic because me as just one student can’t do much of anything but wait and see what College Board will do next.

  5. Christine 3 months ago3 months ago

    I have 2 children in high school. One of them took 3 AP exams, and the other one took 2 exams, totaling 5 AP exams. AP physics 1 and AP computer science A were handwritten, and submitted using an iPad so that it would be easier to submit the photos. The AP French exam was taken using an app, the AP World Languages Exam App. The other 2 exams, AP world history and AP US … Read More

    I have 2 children in high school. One of them took 3 AP exams, and the other one took 2 exams, totaling 5 AP exams. AP physics 1 and AP computer science A were handwritten, and submitted using an iPad so that it would be easier to submit the photos. The AP French exam was taken using an app, the AP World Languages Exam App. The other 2 exams, AP world history and AP US history, were taken using google docs in Chrome that they formatted into plain text, and then saved on their desktop the day before the exams as specified by the College Board.

    One question per saved document with theIr AP ID and their initials written at the top of each document. On the day of each exam, each of my children opened their already-saved documents and typed their answers. I made sure that no one else in the house was on the wifi during the exams. They didn’t have any trouble submitting their exams. We did our homework: we read, and re-read the detailed instructions, and took note of what to do in case of an eventual glitch.

    One of the solutions for troubleshooting that hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else yet, was to reopen the email that had the e-ticket, and to click on it to restart the exam right there and then. My children had their email opened in the background in case they would need to do that. We were prepared in case something went wrong. Luckily everything worked as planned.

    Even if we had encountered a glitch, and the recommendations for fixing the glitch hadn’t worked, it would have never occurred to me or my children to sue the College Board. What world are we living in, where people are always suing everything and everyone? And how greedy are the plaintiffs for asking $500,000,000?! Under what bases? Things happen. Be grateful that you are not sick and dying in a hospital bed on a ventilator. Be grateful that the College Board agreed to administered the exams to please 91% of students who wanted to take the exams. Be grateful for being alive.

    In another forum I read the story of a father whose son had trouble submitting his answers via email because he “only” had 10 minutes to do so, and it took him 15 minutes because he had to send two separate documents per each question. He thought it was outrageous. Well, sir, had you or your son done your homework, these documents would have been prepared the day before, and it would have taken your son less than 10 minutes to submit his answers.

    Be safe, and stay healthy. Taking the exam again is no big deal. If anything, now you know what to expect. And if you know your subject well, it shouldn’t be a problem. Be well, and be grateful.

  6. L 3 months ago3 months ago

    Abolish the College Board.

  7. Edith Holzman 3 months ago3 months ago

    I am a student currently in high school and I am so disappointed at the College Board's lack of compassion for the students who spent the entire year preparing for these tests. I took three AP tests this year: APUSH, English 3, and Spanish 4. For U.S. history, the test is usually comprised of 55 multiple choice questions, 3 short answer questions, a DBQ (document-based question) essay, and a long essay question. This year it … Read More

    I am a student currently in high school and I am so disappointed at the College Board’s lack of compassion for the students who spent the entire year preparing for these tests.

    I took three AP tests this year: APUSH, English 3, and Spanish 4. For U.S. history, the test is usually comprised of 55 multiple choice questions, 3 short answer questions, a DBQ (document-based question) essay, and a long essay question. This year it was only a DBQ, and instead of getting 6 documents and an hour to complete the essay, we got 5 documents and only 45 minutes to write the essay. They also changed the point system from a 7 to 10 point scale which meant that there were more chances to lose points.

    For English, the only part of the exam was a rhetorical analysis essay and they only gave us 45 minutes. The most annoying AP test that I took, by far, was my Spanish 4 exam. The test we prepared all year for was comprised of: 30 multiple choice questions based off of texts (23%), 35 multiple choice questions based off of texts and audio recordings (27%), 2 free response questions including a short answer and a long essay (writing 25%), and 2 speaking questions (25%). Every single test we took in class was multiple choice and an essay (1 day for each portion). We were preparing for the majority of our AP test to include these things. Instead, the entire AP test was speaking which was originally worth 25% of our test grade.

    We spoke for 4 minutes. The first 2 minutes was a conversation where we spoke for 20 second intervals and the last 2 minutes was an oral presentation. How is that acceptable? How can College Board fairly grade my entire year of Spanish off of 4 minutes of speaking?

    Furthermore, about a 1/3 of my class are native speakers/fluent. Most people that take Spanish classes that are already fluent are just looking to improve their reading and writing skills because they can already speak very well. This entire test was so unfair and was clearly the College Board just trying to keep their money without creating a more effective testing system.

  8. David R Graham 3 months ago3 months ago

    I appreciate that College Board has been trying to make the best of a bad situation. So, while I greatly sympathize with the students who had difficulty submitting answers, that is not a justification for trashing the College Board's efforts. They could easily have made their lives simpler (though possibly less financially remunerative - I assume they'd have refunded test fees and don't know what that does to their overall financial picture, e.g., … Read More

    I appreciate that College Board has been trying to make the best of a bad situation. So, while I greatly sympathize with the students who had difficulty submitting answers, that is not a justification for trashing the College Board’s efforts. They could easily have made their lives simpler (though possibly less financially remunerative – I assume they’d have refunded test fees and don’t know what that does to their overall financial picture, e.g., no need to pay test graders in that case) by simply declining to give tests at all this year. Realizing how deflating that would be to students, they’ve tried to work something out.

    Having said that, I don’t think the testing that has happened is adequate, and not just because of submission difficulties for a significant number of students. Turning a 3 hour exam that is half multiple choice and half free response (I think that characterizes many of the exams and not just the Calculus AB and Physics 1 exams my son took) into a 45 minute free response test that covers only 2/3 to 3/4 of the normal content simply cannot adequately replicate the normal evaluation. That may work to the benefit of some students and the detriment of others. Either way, it’s not fair.

    I’d have rather seen them shoot for a full-fledged test offered in person some time during the summer or perhaps at the beginning of the next school year. That significant temporal dislocation is also not ideal, but, in my view, maintaining the comprehensiveness of the evaluation is of more importance. (I assume some allowance for social distancing would have to be made, but that seems a relatively small logistical problem to address.) Perhaps offering that option for students who have been ill-done by the current scheme (whether by a submission snafu or disadvantageous fit with the diluted evaluation) is something College Board can consider.

  9. el 3 months ago3 months ago

    I have no opinion on the legal basis of the claims, but I definitely think the College Board owes every student who had an issue their very best efforts to make those students whole, and I don't think they've succeeded in doing that. Their clear choices here to shift the blame onto the students for being technologically inadequate are not only tone deaf, but also wrong and frankly deeply inappropriate. I personally know an affected … Read More

    I have no opinion on the legal basis of the claims, but I definitely think the College Board owes every student who had an issue their very best efforts to make those students whole, and I don’t think they’ve succeeded in doing that. Their clear choices here to shift the blame onto the students for being technologically inadequate are not only tone deaf, but also wrong and frankly deeply inappropriate. I personally know an affected student and from that student’s experience and general technical prowess, I don’t think there is anything the student could have reasonably been expected to do differently. The student studied hard to be ready for the exam and is now stressed about taking it again.

    An emphasis on “just 1%” – even if that is the true number – is used to minimize the number of individual students who were affected, particularly if 1% is north of 20,000 individuals. (Anecdotally it seems likely to me it could be higher.) That’s not right nor honorable.

    If the College Board wants to continue to own this space, they have to do better.

    Replies

    • David R Graham 3 months ago3 months ago

      You have to view the College Board’s response in the context of our legal system. No organization can, in general, respond openly and sincerely in a situation such as this – and, in particular, they are greatly constrained in acknowledging responsibility and fault – for fear of the detrimental impact the response may have in prospective (or actual) legal proceedings. They may like to say something different, but can’t.

  10. Shirleen 3 months ago3 months ago

    I also took the AP Exams this week. Not only were there technical difficulties that these students had experienced during the test, the time that we were able to take it was completely unreasonable. Since I live in Guam, I had to take the AP Lang & Comp test at 4 AM in the morning. Also, College Board recommended to log into our account 30 mins prior to the exam. The times in which we … Read More

    I also took the AP Exams this week. Not only were there technical difficulties that these students had experienced during the test, the time that we were able to take it was completely unreasonable.

    Since I live in Guam, I had to take the AP Lang & Comp test at 4 AM in the morning. Also, College Board recommended to log into our account 30 mins prior to the exam. The times in which we had to log in to take our test/exam was pretty hard to deal with. Many of the students in Asia & Micronesia had to deal with waking up early (Midnight/before dawn) just to take the exam. While those in the US who were taking the exam had reasonable times to take their test.

    All in all, College Board should have thought of the consequences and potential setbacks that may occur to the students before, during, and after taking the exams.