High schoolers will take their AP exams at home, College Board says

Florida has been one of the leading states for the advanced courses and tests.
Students study for Advanced Placement exams [Times | 2013]
Students study for Advanced Placement exams [Times | 2013]
Published Mar. 20, 2020|Updated Mar. 20, 2020

The thousands of Florida teens who planned to spend hours this spring in school testing centers trying to earn college credits on Advanced Placement exams will be taking the tests at home instead.

In response to social distancing efforts under way nationally to slow the spread of COVID-19, test administrator College Board announced Friday it would provide shortened 45-minute AP exams. They will be based on curriculum truncated to better reflect what classes already have covered.

Students would get to pick one of two dates to take the exams, which will be announced on April 3, when the College Board also plans to reveal what types of questions will appear for each of the dozens of subjects.

“Through our members across the country, we understand the new time constraints on everyone in the education community,” the organization said in a news release. “These solutions are meant to be as simple and lightweight as possible for both students and teachers — without creating additional burdens for school leaders during this time.”

The announcement has significant implications in Florida, which has for the past few years been among the nation’s leaders in AP exam participation.

Fifty-six percent of the students in the Class of 2019 took at least one Advance Placement course and test, with 32.3 percent of them earning at least one score of 3 or higher, which can generate college credits.

In May 2019, Florida public and private high school students took a total of 215,120 AP exams that resulted in scores of 3, 4, or 5, the state Department of Education reported.

Students and teachers alike saw benefits and problems with the plan, which they learned about over lunchtime Friday. Many on social media decried the plan, saying it significantly altered the AP system so late in the game.

Arjun Karkare, a Largo High School junior, is preparing to take the chemistry exam this spring.

“In terms of getting the tests out, probably online is the best thing,” said Karkare, who sat for the physics test a year ago.

But he worried about having to approach the exam with no added classroom time to prepare with teachers and other students.

“It’s definitely hard to self-study for AP exams,” Karkare said. “We still have more curriculum to cover, and it’s hard curriculum.”

And he raised the obvious concern that by giving the test in a non-proctored environment, some students might take it together.

Heather Rulison, who teaches AP literature at Land O’Lakes High School, agreed that cheating could be a concern — not for essays, which will be reviewed for copying and plagiarism, but perhaps for multiple choice and other such questions.

Beyond that, Rulison wondered how a shortened exam will really allow teens to demonstrate their knowledge from an almost entire year of the higher-level coursework. And she noted that, for many students, the AP testing season is already stressful enough that these changes could hurt.

“For some, the whole year comes down to that test,” she said.

Rulison said her own students are highly motivated, and she believed they will do what it takes to be ready. But she also suggested her preference would have been to push back the date and allow more time for normal preparation — something that would carry its own downside because the further away students get from their lessons, the harder it is to remember for a test.

The current plan “is probably the best option they have now,” she said.

William Pinson, a senior at Middleton High School in Tampa, said he wished other choices existed. A veteran of several AP tests, Pinson said he preferred the 3 to 4 hour test with a combination of multiple choice and essay questions.

“There’s a lot of things you can’t fit into a few essay questions,” he said. “There’s a lot of content. I don’t think they should rely on a 45-minute (free response question) portion to reflect the content we’ve learned over the entire year.”

The College Board acknowledged in its announcement that test security is one of its primary concerns.

“The at-home AP Exams this year will not include any multiple-choice questions, only free-response questions adapted for secure testing at home," Trevor Packer, College Board senior vice president for AP, explained on Twitter. "They will measure skills that can’t be learned from Google or chats with friends.”

The organization also spoke to the possibility that some students might not have the equipment available to participate from home.

“Working with partners, we will invest so that these students have the tools and connectivity they need to review AP content online and take the exam. If your students need mobile tools or connectivity, you can reach out to us directly to let us know,” it stated.

More details about the testing dates will be available April 3. Read the College Board’s full statement for more details, including which units each course test will be based on.