Invalidated AP exam scores at Mills High School is leading to a legal showdown with district officials seeking the students’ scores back, but one testing expert said the answer to the overall flawed testing process will not come from a courtroom.
Last week, officials from the San Mateo Union High School District announced 286 students had their advanced placement exams invalidated because of “seating irregularities.” The board decided this Tuesday to pursue legal action with the assistance of the Burlingame law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy against the College Board and Educational Testing Service, the security provider that administers the AP Exams, with the goal of getting scores validated for the 286 students who lost more than 600 combined scores taken this past spring.
Bob Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, a nonprofit with the mission to prevent the misuse of standardized tests, has testified before several state legislatures concerning what he sees as a flawed process for canceling test scores.
“The problem with litigation is that it is a lengthy and costly process and the testing company has them over a barrel,” Schaeffer said. “There needs to be state regulation to force them to comply with due process and not allow them arbitrary canceling of scores on a whim. They do not like to be embarrassed though, so they sometimes back down.”
The College Board’s decision comes from a place of heightened cheating fear in the testing industry, Schaeffer said. This fear dates back to two years ago in Great Neck, N.Y., when a ring of students paid other students between $1,500 and $2,500 to take SAT tests for them, he added.Schaeffer noted AP test invalidations are rarer than SAT invalidations.
“There are inconsistencies with the College Board — they are sloppy in some ways, when it comes to monitoring seating and checking IDs,” Schaeffer said. “If something becomes public, they tend to overreach. No due process exists and you have to prove yourself innocent rather than the other way around.”
ETS spokesman Jason Baran said, “any assertion that ‘ETS and College Board tend to blame the students’ is inaccurate and inflammatory.”
“ETS’ thorough investigation — which was initiated in response to information voluntarily provided by a Mills student who sat for an AP exam and in which school personnel cooperated — demonstrated that Mills High School personnel failed to comply with specific seating guidelines that the school had committed to follow as a condition of administering AP Exams. To their credit, Mills High School personnel have acknowledged this failure.”
Baran said this protocol — clearly communicated to AP coordinators worldwide — is necessary to ensure a fair testing environment for all students, which ensures the integrity of scores reported to colleges and universities. When this protocol is not followed, scores must be rendered invalid.
“The leadership and staff at both ETS and the College Board understand the frustration and anger impacted students are experiencing as a result of this extremely unfortunate situation,” Baran said. “We have worked collaboratively with Mills High School personnel to schedule a retest that will enable these students to earn valid scores that can be reported to colleges and universities.”
Another expert believes students should retake the test — and should be able to do well.
Jay Mathews, an education columnist for The Washington Post, spent five years researching and looking at data for a case of cheating during a 1982 AP calculus test at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. At this low-income school, all the students passed the AP calculus exam, the College Board accused them of cheating and discovered they had actually learned the material. The story went on to become a 1998 movie called “Stand and Deliver,” in which the lead actor was nominated for an Academy Award.
“When they retook the test, they all did quite well, so I think the [Mills] students are not thinking clearly when they refuse to take the test again,” Mathews said. “They think it will force College Board to release scores, but they just do not back off their rules. I can’t think of any harm that will come from it [retesting], they’ll do just as well. To think they can stare down the College Board is wrong. A class grad also could be enough to convince colleges to let students test out of entry level courses.”
Mathews added that AP tests and the International Baccalaureate program are the best things to happen to high schools in recent years and helps keep them from dumbing down standards. At a community meeting at Mills High School Wednesday night, the district announced retest dates for the invalidated
Advanced Placement tests have been changed from Aug. 5-12 to Aug. 9-19. The deadline for registration has also been canceled — students can now show up on the day of the exams and simply take the tests. The specific tests dates per subject are on the Mills High School website. In May 2013, ETS invalidated .15 percent of AP Exams of 4 million tests taken because of administrative irregularities.
firstname.lastname@example.org(650) 344-5200 ext. 105
NOTE TO READERS: This story has been changed. The allegations against the students at Garfield High School were found not to be true.