SAN DIEGO (CN) – More than 500 Advanced Placement students in San Diego must retake their tests, a federal court judge ruled late Friday, after finding the College Board was correct in invalidating more than 800 tests because students sat too close together.
AP test administrator Education Testing Service found tests spanning nine subjects taken by Scripps Ranch High School students in May must be invalidated because of “testing irregularities,” including students who were seated too close together when they took their college-level tests in the school library.
The San Diego Unified School District and a group of students and parents from Scripps Ranch sued the test administrator and College Board July 7 and asked for an expedited hearing on a temporary restraining order they requested against the defendants. The restraining order would have required the College Board to grade the tests and release the scores to students’ prospective colleges.
U.S. District Judge Michael Anello warned the parties at the start of the hearing late Friday afternoon he would likely to rule against the school district, but that he wanted to hear from the lawyers before ruling from the bench.
“I can feel the plaintiffs’ pain and understand how difficult this must be for the students,” Anello said before each attorney argued their case.
The judge acknowledged a similar case out of San Mateo County in Northern California in 2013, where tests taken by nearly 300 students at Mills High School were also invalidated because of “seating irregularities.” The school district sued Education Testing Service and the College Board, but their motion for a temporary restraining order was also denied.
Anello said “the result here should probably be the same as it was there,” reminding the attorneys “injunctive relief is a harsh remedy.”
San Diego Unified attorney William Low told Anello students should not have to be forced to retake their AP tests due to “errors entirely of the staff and through no fault of their own.”
Low argued the “minor” errors by staff did not affect the integrity of the test, saying students were seated four feet apart rather than the five feet dictated by College Board rules.
The College Board could use “reasonable discretion” in deciding whether to invalidate the more than 800 tests, Low argued, adding the students would suffer harm due to the late notice for test retakes which are scheduled to start as early as next week.
“To suggest to these students, ‘Oh, it’s not so bad to retake the test’ is inherently unfair to the students,” Low said.
He suggested many of the students had tossed out their study materials and that some may not be able to retake the tests due to job commitments or family trips. Low also said students may not do as well on the retakes as they did on the May test they spent a year preparing for and that they could lose out on thousands of dollars if they didn’t get college credit for passing the tests.
Educational Testing Services attorney Christopher Casamassima said the testing administrator and College Board “don’t take score cancelations lightly,” reminding the court it’s not in their financial interest to cancel the tests students pay for and let them retake the tests for free.
Casamassima ticked off the various College Board rules, including a checklist which recommends test coordinators ensure their testing facilities are large enough months in advance. He said test proctors at Scripps Ranch could have had students take their AP exams in their “big, beautiful gym” as many schools do, or even use some of the test fees recouped by the school to rent out a church or community center with more space.
“They didn’t have to cram everybody into the library,” Casamassima said.
The attorney suggested if the temporary restraining order was granted the “millions of test takers and colleges and universities who rely on it” would be harmed.
“At the end of the day, the College Board cannot rely on the high school’s subjection,” Casamassima said.
Anello denied the temporary restraining order request, paving the way for students to start retaking their AP tests as soon as Monday. Testing will continue through August.