Students and teachers react to AP testing changes

The College Board, administrators of the Advanced Placement exams, announced in a March 20 update changes to AP testing for this spring.

The changes include replacing the traditional in-person exams, which are typically two to three hours long, with 45-minute online exams, offering a later testing date at no extra charge and providing free remote learning resources. In addition, any student already registered can cancel at no charge.

“Students remain eager to take AP Exams and to have a chance to earn credit and placement. We surveyed 18,000 AP students and 91% indicated they want to complete this important step, urging us not to cancel this opportunity they have been working toward,” The College Board said in the update.

The topics on exams will be adjusted to cover only that which has been taught before most schools shut down.

AP curricula are locally developed and we defer to local decisions on how best to help students complete coursework. To be fair to all students, some of whom have lost more instructional time than others, the exam will only include topics and skills most AP teachers and students have already covered in class by early March.”

Troy Thibedeau, AP Calculus AB and BC teacher, thinks the early March cutoff is a concern to Shorewood AP students.

“This puts SHS at a disadvantage since we start school after September 1, while most other schools start in August,” Thibedeau said. “We are usually 23 weeks behind other schools. I don’t believe that [The] College Board surveyed schools to see how far in the curriculum we are. At least I wasn’t [surveyed].”

However, Thibedeau thinks that the changes are the best they could be, given the circumstances.

I think that [The] College Board came up with the best solution that they could in such a short time.

— Troy Thibedeau, AP Calculus AB and BC teacher

“I think that [The] College Board came up with the best solution that they could in such a short time,” Thibedeau said. “I’m not really sure how a 45 minute online test can do the same measure as a 3.5 hours sit down exam, but I’m not the expert in that area.”

Abby Gandrud, senior and AP student, agrees. Gandrud has experience with traditional AP testing, having taken four AP exams last year. She plans on taking four more this year.

“I was pleasantly surprised with the update because I thought that they were going to either cancel it and not give anyone refunds, or try to keep [the exams] on there for as long as possible, which I think would have been a problem, given that we’re missing so much… instructional time,” Gandrud said. “I think it’s the best situation they could have come up with, given the circumstances, so that kids who are like us and aren’t able to have instructional materials during this time are able to know everything they’re supposed to know and then also are able to take it at home without risking their health to take the exam.”

Though Gandrud thinks that The College Board is providing a good alternative, she is concerned about cheating.

“I don’t know how they’re going to stop people from cheating, and, as someone who doesn’t want to cheat, I would be worried that people around the country would be cheating because I’d assume it would be pretty easy to do,” Gandrud said. “Because your score is given based on the scores around you, I feel like it puts people at a disadvantage [if they] don’t cheat…”

Joe Madell, junior, also has concerns about cheating. This year is Madell’s first year as an AP student, and he plans to take three exams.

“[The College Board] can do something like locking you out from other [websites], but you can always have your notebook in front of you,” Madell said.

According to The College Board’s update, they are taking measures against cheating.

“The exam questions are designed and administered in ways that prevent cheating; we use a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software, to protect the integrity of the exams,” The College Board said.

In addition, The College Board says that scoring at-home work has been done before in the AP Program.

“For years the AP Program has received and scored at-home student work as part of the exams for the AP Computer Science Principles and AP Capstone courses.”

Madell thinks that the updates are questionable.

“I just don’t know how you can do an AP test in just 45 minutes, and online,” Madell said. “I mean, obviously I haven’t taken [an AP exam] before, so I don’t know what it’s like, but I feel like it’s hard to cover what we’ve learned in just 45 minutes, especially something like physics; that’s just going to be like a couple problems… If the whole [exam] is really three hours, and we’ve done three quarters of the year, I feel like [the exam length] should be three quarters of three hours.”

With the new updates, students can take their exams from devices including computers, tablets and smartphones. They can also take a photo of handwritten work.

Having experience with the College Board’s implementation of technology in an exam, Gandrud thinks another concern is technical difficulties.

I took the AP Spanish [Language and Culture] exam last year, and [the technology involved] wasn’t exactly super user-friendly.

— Abby Gandrud, senior and AP student

“I took the AP Spanish [Language and Culture] exam last year, and [the technology involved] wasn’t exactly super user-friendly,” Gandrud said. “There was a bunch of ‘you better not do this or else this happens’. I’m worried about how it’s going to be set up in a way that people won’t accidentally mess up their exams given [The] College Board’s history with technology.”

The College Board is unlocking free-response questions, previously only available to instructors for in-class use, so students can review for their exams. In addition, students and teachers can attend free live review videos taught by AP teachers.

Thibedeau has taken a look at the College Board’s live videos.

“I watched a few of [the calculus videos] and they seem to be okay – not the same as having a teacher with you though,” Thibedeau said. “They are done by high school calculus teachers that were selected by [The] College Board, so I assume that they will be of quality. The first videos happen to coincide with where SHS is in the curriculum. I will be assigning these for students to watch. And my current plan is to come up with supplemental resources to go along with them. However, everything is fluid right now as districts across the state and [the] DPI are working out what this new ‘virtual world’ will look like. Not all districts have the same technological resources or capacities.”

Thibedeau will continue to work with his students to prepare them for their exams.

“My top priority has always been the student,” Thibedeau said. “I will do whatever I can, given our current limitations, to help them. I have unlocked some material from AP Classroom at the My AP website and have already answered questions via email.”

According to The College Board, the shortened exams will still count for college credit.

“Colleges support this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they have worked this year to earn,” The College Board said. “For decades, colleges have accepted a shortened AP Exam for college credit when groups of students have experienced emergencies.”

More information will be released regarding exam schedules, specific free-response question types, and additional details by April 3.