College Board Changes AP Exams Again to Accommodate Pandemic-Era Testing

Since the Advanced Placement (AP) program started within the Nineteen Fifties, tens of hundreds of thousands of scholars have taken their exams at school, with paper and pencil, over the course of a number of hours.

That format held for many years, however in the end couldn’t face up to the challenges posed by a worldwide pandemic. Last spring, the College Board, which oversees the AP program, redesigned the examination to accommodate a brand new actuality of shuttered faculties, disrupted studying and college students with various levels of connectivity. The outcome was an open e-book, open observe, abbreviated at-home examination, utilizing no matter gadget a scholar had obtainable.

It was not with out its hiccups. This yr, the College Board, having realized from these experiences, is saying more changes in an effort to present “unprecedented flexibility” within the age of pandemic-era testing, says Trevor Packer, a senior vp on the nonprofit who leads the AP program.

The objective is to meet college students the place they’re by permitting them to check the place and when it’s handy. Students who attend a college that’s open for in-person instruction might take a conventional paper-and-pencil AP examination with a proctor—the identical approach college students did earlier than the pandemic—or go for the digital model. Students who’re nonetheless studying remotely can take the digital examination at residence, which can be full-length (three to 4 hours, as an alternative of 45 minutes, as was the case final yr) and just about the identical because the handwritten model.

Also not like final yr, wherein every topic check was provided on the similar time and date worldwide to keep away from answer-sharing, the College Board is providing three test sessions for every topic, from early May to mid-June. This will enable faculties to “mix and match,” Packer says, explaining {that a} faculty might unfold college students testing in-person for AP Calculus throughout all three dates to enable for social distancing, or might have all in-person test-takers sit for the examination on a single date. Schools may also select between totally different dates and codecs for various assessments.

These modifications come on the heels of the College Board’s decision final month to transfer away from SAT topic assessments and optionally available essay assessments, which it additionally produces.

Lessons From Last Year

When faculties closed final March, the College Board briefly thought-about scrapping the AP exams altogether, says Packer, given the logistical challenges posed by faculty closures and disparities in residence web entry for college students. But a survey of scholars on the matter discovered that 91 p.c of respondents wished an opportunity to take the check and earn school credit score.

“They filled pages and pages of comments in the open-ended response [of the survey], saying they were losing so many aspects of high school life—trips, prom—but what they could still do was study. They said, ‘Please don’t take that away,’” Packer remembers.

So then the query grew to become how to pull that off.

The assessments wanted to be brief sufficient to do from residence, however lengthy sufficient that it demonstrated a scholar’s talents and generated a rating that could possibly be trusted by schools. It additionally wanted to be accessible by smartphone, to assist with the entry subject.

That’s how they arrived on the open observe, 45-minute digital examination that college students took. Some college students answered the free-response questions on paper, then snapped a photograph of their handwritten work on their smartphone and uploaded it.

“We have deeply mixed feelings” about final yr’s examination, Packer says. “We have a lot of satisfaction and pride” that the College Board was in a position to present “some aspect of normalcy” and an opportunity to earn school credit score.

On the opposite hand, technical glitches left some college students pissed off and defeated.

“Most students were able to take the test just fine and upload their answers,” Packer says. “But with 3 million students, it wasn’t surprising. We warned it would be bumpy and that some people would need to do makeup tests. We knew errors would happen—if there was a local internet outage when a student tried to submit their test, they’d need to retest. If a student didn’t use an updated browser, or if they took a blurry photo, they’d need to retest.”

He provides: “The last thing we wanted was for a student with the courage to show up and take the AP test from their home to have a negative experience.”

Overall, the variety of AP exams taken went down by about 7 p.c from the earlier yr, after 10 years of principally growing participation. Packer says that’s due partly to the College Board waiving college students’ cancellation charges after it introduced the brand new testing format, after which about 9 p.c of those that had registered selected to drop out.

Students’ average scores had been additionally the best they’ve been since at the very least the yr 2000, at 3.03. Packer suspects it is because most of the college students who canceled their check registrations had been these “less likely to be successful” on the examination, due to this fact making the testing pool stronger, although he didn’t provide a definitive rationalization. There is not any proof, he provides, to counsel that the modified, shorter assessments final yr had been simpler, and in reality he has heard from college students that they had been tougher as a result of they didn’t embrace any a number of selection questions, on which college students usually carry out higher.

Testing a New Approach

Digital and paper exams in some topics—although not all—might have minute variations for questions the place a scholar is proscribed by the digital format. Packer presents an instance from a calculus examination, wherein a scholar testing with paper and pencil at school might draw out a graph herself to illustrate the idea, however a scholar testing digitally is likely to be proven graphs as an alternative. Experts will account for these discrepancies to guarantee every check is “statistically equated for difficulty levels,” he says.

Online test-takers ought to count on a smoother expertise than final yr. To account for the glitches, the brand new digital examination has been redesigned “to be tolerant of internet disruptions,” the College Board says, “so while a student needs internet access to start and finish the exam, they’ll be able to keep testing if the internet goes out momentarily.”

Some choices will not be obtainable for the digital examination. New security measures will stop college students from returning to an answered query, or from toggling backwards and forwards between remaining questions. Students will be unable to take the check on a smartphone; they have to use a pc. They will even not have the choice of submitting images of handwritten work, which was doable final yr.

Nine of the 38 topic assessments—primarily world languages and music idea—won’t have the choice to be taken on-line, as these require test-takers to learn and write in one other language and are “too easily cheatable” in a digital surroundings, Packer says.

As for what the AP assessments will appear to be after the pandemic, Packer says that some parts of this new format will keep, and others will go.

At-home testing just isn’t a long-term possibility. “It’s a once-in-a-century emergency protocol,” he says. Once all faculties resume for in-person studying, so will AP testing resume for in-school administration. But the digital choices, Packer says, are right here to keep.

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