Are AP test glitches a preview of SAT troubles?

For the first time ever, College Board administered the AP exams remotely this year. Normally, students gather in classrooms to take the three-hour-long exams in mid-May. This year, due to the current pandemic, was different. Students around the country logged onto their computers from home at set times. The plan was to access and download truncated versions of the AP exams. Unfortunately, a glitch in the AP test process has caused some students lots of trouble. Is this a preview of trouble to come with the remote SAT?

AP Test Submission Glitches

The College Board announced a variety of accommodations for this year’s unusual circumstances back in April. This involved condensing the exam to a single 45-minute essay and allowing both open note and open book access. Students wrote their essay responses on paper and took a picture of their essays with their ubiquitous mobile phones. A quick upload later, the exam was complete.

According to the College Board, approximately 99% of the over 2.2 million AP exams administered this May were successfully uploaded and scored. Which in turn means 1% of submissions failed. While a 1% failure rate doesn’t sound that bad, consider what that number means. Statistically, between 22,000 and 25,000 AP exams failed to upload. These students followed the instructions, followed the rules, and did the work. 22,000 and 25,000 exams were scored as a 0 for failure to submit, despite the desperate efforts of panicked students

The AP exams are normally scored on a scale of 1 to 5. Scores of 1 and 2 are considered failing, while scores of 3, 4, or 5 are considered passing. Students can only earn a 0 by not completing the exam. This happened to thousands of students this past month.

Repercussions

Unsurprisingly, a class action lawsuit has already been filed against the College Board. The College Board has claimed that any student who ran into trouble can simply register for a free make-up exam beginning the first week of June. The problem with that solution for these students is that they will have to re-take the exam, from the beginning. All of the work these students completed for the exam the first time around doesn’t count. In other words: despite the fact that the problem is the College Board’s mistake, the students are expected to do all the work to fix the problem.

While this is a major hassle for the current AP students, the bigger issue is actually about the future. The coronavirus pandemic crisis is ongoing. New cases are still on the rise. It is likely that schools will be forced to return to remote learning again next fall. Once again, administration of the SAT in public schools around the country will likely not be possible.

The College Board has already announced a solution: remote administration. In fact, the administration of the AP exams in May was a test run of the system that the College Board will use to administer the SAT remotely, if necessary. Given the large number of students expected to register for the August, newly created September, and October SAT dates this fall, mostly due to the cancellations of the March, May, and June test dates, there will likely be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of students attempting to take the SAT this fall. Neither the College Board nor the students can afford even a 1% failure rate of students not being able to complete the SAT due to computer, internet, or other technical glitches.

Repeat Performance?

I expect the College Board to quickly settle the current lawsuit with a combination of small payouts, free test administrations, and promises to do better in the future. My concern is much more for the students planning to take the SAT this fall. Remote administration is likely to happen. We’ll have to keep an eye on the College Board to make sure they’re ready.