Botched AP Exam Seating Tanked Students' Scores
(CN) - A federal judge refused to reinstate Advanced Placement exam scores that were invalidated at a California high school that sat students at round tables on test day.
The AP Manual calls for students to be seated at least 5 feet from each other and facing the same direction. Test-takers cannot be seated at round tables.
As such, the College Entrance Examination board invalidated the scores of 280 students from Mills High School in Millbrae, Calif., who sat at round tables, facing one another, when the AP exams were administered in May 2013.
In August, the San Mateo Union High School District and the AP Students-Vikings Parent Group sued Educational Testing Services (ETS) and the College Board on behalf of the students. The complaint claimed that the students were not at fault for the irregular seating arrangements and that they were not given a chance to prove their innocence.
The students were offered the chance to retake all of their AP exams, but the district denied that this was a suitable solution.
It sought a temporary restraining order directing ETS and the College Board to grade and validate the students' tests in 11 different subjects and to report the scores to the colleges and universities requested by the students.
U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong denied such relief Friday after finding that the district is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its case.
Under the "AP Bulletin for AP Students and Parents," which is provided to students taking one or more AP exam, students are warned that the College Board has the right to cancel their exam scores if it is determined that their testing experience did not meet the board's standards for administering exams, even through no fault of their own.
Students are further advised that such cancelations could be the result of testing irregularities, such as improper seating.
Furthermore, the principal and vice principal of Mills High School signed an AP Participation Form, in which they agreed to comply with all of the requirements in the AP Manual, including the seating arrangements. In signing the form, they acknowledged that some or all of the students' scores could be canceled if the school did not comply with the correct procedures.
"Plaintiffs contend that defendants should defer to the School District's assessment that all of the May 2013 AP exams at MHS were 'conducted pursuant to test protocols that ensure the validity of the test results,'" Judge Armstrong wrote. "However, requiring defendants to defer to each individual school's assessment of whether test conditions were adequately secure - notwithstanding the school's admitted failure to assure strict adherence to the requisite seating protocol - is entirely antithetical to the purpose of standardized testing. The imposition of uniform test administration procedures is directed to ensuring that the particular test is administered under conditions that are as uniform as possible."
The district also failed to show that immediate reinstatement of the scores is necessary to avoid irreparable harm that would befall the students if they lose admission to colleges and universities, lose college credit, lose the ability to skip introductory classes, cannot retest or are forced to retest under different circumstances.
"The weakness in each of these claims of irreparable harm is that they rest on the assumption that MHS students who choose to retake the exam will not perform as well as they did before," Armstrong wrote. "That, of course, cuts both ways. While some may perform worse, others may perform better. Though plaintiffs complain that students only have a month's notice to prepare for the rests, they acknowledge that they have been studying the AP curricula the entire school [year]. Moreover, having taken the actual exam, many students may be better positioned to improve their scores." (Emphasis in original.)