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At-Home AP Exams Raise Many Questions

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Across the nation, high school students are taking Advanced Placement, or AP exams, this week. This is an annual event administered by the College Board. 

But everything is different this year. 

In another example of how the pandemic is changing American life, this year the AP exams are being given online, to students at home. 

“You can use any device to take this exam, a desktop, a laptop, a tablet or a smart phone,” says part of the video produced by the College Board, outlining all the instructions students need to take the tests. 

By now, every AP student knows the basics. They’ve seen all the various College Board tips and the dozens of instructional videos on YouTube for the various AP subjects, 31 exams in all. 

So this week, thousands of kids are going beyond distance learning - they’re taking exams crucial for their academic futures at home. 

“I have no intimate knowledge of this but I believe the College Board will be a little more lenient in the grading this year due to the circumstances,” said Jeff Foster, who teaches AP Government at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. 

He’s been conducting regular Zoom sessions with his students, trying to prepare them for a test which is radically different this year. 

“AP decided to give multiple questions to the kids and tweak ‘em a little bit as well, in the past there would only be one question,” Foster explained, pointing out that multiple choice questions have been eliminated in his subject.

That was done to make it harder to cheat from student to student, although Foster acknowledges students who want to cheat can probably do so. 

What can stop a parent or older sibling from sitting with a student and feeding that student answers?  

I asked Foster what he thinks of the whole concept of giving AP exams to students while they’re home.

“At first I questioned why they were even giving the test, but then I came around to the fact that these kids worked hard for 27 weeks and if they can figure out a proper way to assess them and give them the opportunity to get college credit, which is why they take the class, they should have an opportunity,” Foster said. 

After a couple of days of testing, the College Board reports about 2% of students nationally were having the type of problems Foster heard about from some of his students. 

“The test wouldn’t let me submit, what do I do? So a couple of technical issues, now those kids are gonna have to apply to take the test June 1st and we were assured by AP that if anything happened at their end the kids would have another shot at the test,” Foster said. 

That in itself raises questions of fairness, because it means kids who weren’t able to submit their exams because of technical reasons now have to prepare again to take the test weeks from now. 

As Foster says, it’s not ideal, some kids have distractions at home which others don’t have, but they all have to play the cards they’ve been dealt. 

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