AP scores dwindle over pandemic

Despite having previously switched to a strictly digital format, the 2021 AP exams were administered both in-person and online this year.

In order to accommodate students who could not take the tests in-person due to the pandemic, College Board provided test-takers with the option of taking their exams physically or digitally. However, due to the amount of students in select courses, schools chose to administer some exams such as AP foreign languages at Diamond Bar High School entirely in-person although the test itself was digital.

Because of the option to take tests online, the issue of potential cheating became a prevalent concern for many instructors.

“The online testing environment was definitely less secure than in-person testing, but there is no hard evidence for cheating,” AP English teacher Cage Morgan said. 

Angela Jensvold, who, in addition to teaching Physics at DBHS, is also an AP Physics grader, believes that academic integrity may have been violated in the course of online AP exams.

“You could tell there was lots of visible cheating throughout the students’ tests,” Jensvold said.

Aside from academic dishonesty, changes made to this year’s exams as well as a decrease in students signing up for the AP tests could have affected scores as well. 

Overall, scores from the online AP tests were lower than anticipated. For example, in AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC, mean scores for DBHS students dropped by more than 20 percent when compared to scores from 2019. However, they did experience a small increase from 2020 to 2021, when the exams were extended to their usual length regardless of the format.

“The scores decreased, but there were also less students who took the test from 2021 compared to 2019,” AP Calculus teacher, Michelle Hansen said.

In Psychology, scores dropped from a 3.72 to 3.39 average. History scores also fell dramatically, with average scores in AP European History and AP United States History falling by over 0.5 points. This trend also became apparent in AP Art History, where the mean score fell from a passing 3 to a 2.33.

A similar decline was seen in the AP Biology and AP Chemistry courses as well, with a decrease of 0.47 and 0.45 respectively. The Chemistry exam, being a harder test for DBHS students to pass, dropped below the passing mark to 2.94 while the Biology score averaged at a passing score of 3.16.

Contrary to this trend, some courses, including AP Physics and AP United States Government and Politics, experienced score increases. The average of Physics 2 increased from 3.84 in 2019 to 4.06 in 2021 while Physics C increased from 4.25 to 4.33 in the past two years. The United States Government and Politics score experienced the largest increase this year, from 3.12 before the pandemic to 3.65 recently.

Although a majority of subjects experienced decreased average scores this year, some students, like senior Gavin Han, expressed their preference for the online test.

“The chairs during the in-person test were uncomfortable and the AC was freezing. Online testing was much better for me because I felt more comfortable at home,” he said. 

Junior Allison Yuh also preferred the online AP test as well after taking both in-person and online tests this year.

“Being able to type out short answer questions and essays saved me a lot of time,” Yuh said.