A group of teens who couldn’t get their Advanced Placement exam responses to upload in time this spring has sued the College Board in federal court, demanding that the test maker accept their answers and grade them.
The class action lawsuit, filed Wednesday in California, alleges that the College Board knew of potential problems with the at-home online exams — offered that way for the first time ever in response to coronavirus-fueled school closures — yet did nothing to prevent them.
“The College Board was immediately made aware by numerous sources, including counselors, educators, advocates and families, that there were serious concerns that the at-home AP exams would not be fair to students who have no computer, access to Internet or quiet workspaces from which to work, or to under-resourced students in general,” the complaint states.
“Even as the test began, questions remained about the availability and applicability of legally required accommodations for students with disabilities, the fair access to connectivity for all students, test security, and score comparability.”
Peter Schwartz, chief risk officer and general counsel for College Board, criticized the suit as without merit.
“This lawsuit is a PR stunt masquerading as a legal complaint being manufactured by an opportunistic organization that prioritizes media coverage for itself," Schwartz said via email. “It is wrong factually and baseless legally; the College Board will vigorously and confidently defend against it, and expect to prevail.”
He noted that the students who had troubles with their submissions in the first days of testing have an opportunity to test again.
And, after a week of complaints the company, which charges $94 per exam, offered a backup plan for students who attempted in vain to turn in their responses within the 5-minute window to submit each answer. The offer was not retroactive to the teens who ran into troubles during the first week of testing.
Gaither High School junior Ben Rosenberg wishes it would have been. Then he wouldn’t have to retake his physics exam.
Rosenberg, 17, said he had no troubles submitting his answer to the first question on the test. Not so for the second one.
“I hit the submit button and nothing happened,” he recalled. “I kept pressing it and pressing it. Nothing happened and the time ran out.”
He became simultaneously very angry, and very worried. After some yelling, swearing and maybe some hitting of things — he says he can’t remember — Rosenberg realized he’d have to take the test again. There was no other option yet.
“In that instant, all of my confidence gave way to fear,” he said. “What am I going to do now? ... I asked for a makeup.”
He still has the time-stamped photo of his answers, just in case. But he has no intention of giving up his chance to earn the college credit that AP scores offer.
His mom, Hillary, said she wants to be understanding of College Board, as they created a whole new testing system in a short time for the kids who worked hard and want credit for their effort. A lawsuit, she said, seems a bit much.
“I just wish they would (accept the rejected answers) retroactively,” she said. “I just wish they would let them submit.”
Stories like Rosenberg’s, while not in the majority, are far from singular, said Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which is supporting the lawsuit.
His group received more than 200 specific stories, Schaeffer said. And if you accept College Board’s estimate that 1 percent of test responses were rejected by the technology, he added, that’s an even larger number.
“There were 2.1 million tests given in the first week. That’s 21,000 kids,” he said. “Is that small? Not to them.”
And he criticized College Board’s late response to the mounting complaints, characterizing them as “too bad, so sad,” until the details became the subject of news stories across the nation.
In addition to asking for a chance to have their answers scored, the students are asking for financial damages — they could be out their testing fee and, perhaps, the cost of college credits they might have earned. They’re also calling for punitive action against College Board.
The penalty, Schaeffer said, is to stop such bad behavior in the future. It’s a real and immediate concern, he explained.
“The College Board, if schools remain closed in the fall, plans to roll out an at-home SAT," Schaeffer said. “That could cause as much problem.”