Technical difficulties on new online AP exams lead to lawsuit

In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and school campuses closed nationwide, the College Board introduced online AP exams. However, even with all the modifications and instructions, thousands of students around the world, including several from Diamond Bar High School, encountered various problems when taking the tests. 

Throughout the two weeks of AP testing, some students had technical difficulties including problems logging in, getting locked out of the exam and experiencing a frozen screen or crashed test server. After the first day of testing on May 11, the news that some students could not submit their answers for the Physics C: Mechanics exam quickly spread across social media. Students who took AP Calculus the next day also faced similar submission problems.

DBHS senior Victoria Condon and junior Rhiannon Tran could not submit their responses for the AP Calculus AB exam. 

“The day before my AP test, I was also hearing hundreds of horror stories from students around the world not being able to turn in their AP tests for various reasons, which didn’t help my anxiety in the slightest,” Condon said via Instagram. 

Condon had taken a picture of her answers with her phone so she could email it to herself and download it onto the computer. 

Tran had tried to take a PDF of her answers with her phone but her phone crashed. She had to shut down her phone and wait for it to turn back on, and the given five minutes was not enough for her to submit her answers on time. 

“I also think that the variety of the difficulty of the problems was an unfair advantage for some students as well as a huge disadvantage for others,” Condon said. 

The senior also said she will not be retaking the exam because she does not want to stress over the test for the next three weeks and worry about turning in her answers again. 

When he was taking the AP Calculus AB exam, junior Asvin Pradhan said his screen froze when he was turning in his work, so he had to request a makeup exam. 

“I felt completely helpless,” Pradhan said via Instagram. 

According to Pradhan, some of his friends had Wi-Fi connection issues and trouble with attaching their files during their exams. Pradhan explained that he prefers taking paper exams instead of online exams because there are less technical difficulties. 

Both Condon and Pradhan did the AP Exam Demo of an online exam to know what to expect on their actual tests without any problems. 

There were three main methods students could use to submit their answers when taking online AP exams: attaching a text file containing their typed response, attaching photos of their handwritten work and copying and pasting their typed response. 

The College Board has announced that outdated browsers and incompatible photo file formats are among the reasons why students were unable to submit responses. The AP tests accept PNG, JPG and JPEG photos but do not accept HEIC photos, which is the default format for Apple devices. 

Students who encountered problems when taking their test have the opportunity to take a makeup AP exam in June. On May 18, the College Board announced a backup email submission process that allowed students who were unable to submit their answers during their exam to email their responses. However, this option was not applicable to students who took exams during the first week of AP tests. 

Ever since AP testing started, the College Board has received backlash on Twitter and Facebook from students and parents about the complications some students faced on the tests. Others were concerned about ensuring that the test environments and accommodations were fair for students of different backgrounds. 

“This [online test] format was also very stressful for low income families who had to reach out to get a device to take the test, for families who don’t have high speed internet, as well as students with disabilities who in some cases were ultimately penalized for having a disability,” Condon said. 

Some students have started petitions calling for the College Board to let students resubmit their time-stamped responses for their AP exams, with one petition receiving over 29,000 signatures. On May 19, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) and parents of students who couldn’t submit their exam answers filed a class action lawsuit against the College Board at a U.S. District Court in California. The lawsuit requests the nonprofit organization to pay millions in monetary relief and accept students’ test responses so students do not have to retake their exams in June. 

“I think that the lawsuit is appropriate due to the fact that College Board has not necessarily considered proper accommodations to students who may have external issues interfering with the exam at hand,” Pradhan said.