Justin Chirila frantically refreshed the browser on his laptop the night before his Advanced Placement macroeconomics exam. The high school senior had lost the WiFi in his house, and without it, he couldn’t complete the test.
Chirila, along with more than 10,000 AP test-takers in the U.S., will have to take a makeup AP exam in June due to technical difficulties, a lack of accommodations or insufficient resources to take the original exam.
Students, joined by The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, have filed a federal class-action suit against the College Board, an organization that gives high school students the opportunity to take courses for college credit, for discriminating against under-resourced students, disabled students and students in remote locations.
The suit, filed May 19, accuses the College Board of violating its contract, disregarding students’ needs, and the misrepresentation and violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which outlines the obligation of public accommodations to provide appropriate aids and services for people with disabilities. The lawsuit also stated the College Board failed to honor its commitments to students and their families.
Chirila, a student at West Boca High School who will attend UF via the Pathway to Campus Enrollment program (PaCE) in the Fall, said he was scared to take the exam in a public place where there was WiFi because he did not want to risk being infected with COVID-19.
“I am really stressed because I will now have to wait to take my exam, and may not even get the college credit,” he said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the College Board announced on April 21 that AP exams will be administered through an online platform.
Instead of the traditional in-person proctored exam that takes place over an hour, the College Board created a condensed 45-minute version of the test for students to take at home on a computer.
Peter Schwartz, College Board’s chief risk officer and general counsel, wrote in an email to The Alligator that the College Board surveyed AP students when schools closed due to COVID-19. He said 91 percent of students reported they still wanted to take the exam at the end of the course.
Students who were unable to successfully submit their exam can still take a makeup and have the opportunity to earn college credit, Schwartz wrote.
“This lawsuit is a PR stunt masquerading as a legal complaint being manufactured by an opportunistic organization that prioritizes media coverage for itself,” he said.“It is wrong factually and baseless legally; the College Board will vigorously and confidently defend against it, and expect to prevail."
Justin Brock, a student at Gainesville High School in Alachua County, was able to successfully complete his AP biology and AP statistics exams this semester.
But Brock said many of his classmates were unable to submit their work at the end of their exams despite repeatedly pressing the “submit” button.
In Alachua County, 5,280 students were scheduled to take AP Exams, and 556 will be taking make-up exams this summer, said Jeff Charbonnet, director of research, assessment and school improvement of the Alachua County School Board.
Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County Education Association, said the College Board is “holding students with disabilities to a standard that is not reachable.”
“They are not completely focused on student success like the public school system is,” Ward said.
The Americans With Disabilities Act protects all students including those receiving assistance from Alachua County’s Exceptional Education (ESE) Department, which serves about 4,000 students with disabilities.
Many of these students have Individual Education Plans, or IEP’s, that guarantee the necessary support and services to meet a child’s educational needs.
Donna Kidwell, director of the ESE Department in Alachua County, said traditional IEPs require direct face-to-face instruction, which is not possible right now due to concerns about spreading COVID-19. However, she said the department has created distance learning plans for its students during the pandemic.
The College Board website states that students with IEPs will most likely qualify for a wide range of accommodations, including extended time, large-type exams, a written copy of spoken test instructions and permission to use a braille device, computer or magnifying device.
Marci Lerner Miller, a disability advocate and attorney on the lawsuit, said students who had these accommodations approved for the in-school test found out about a week before the exam that their accommodations would not be transferred.
The new exam format started off “incomplete, inconsistent and unfair from the beginning,” Miller said.
“We have one student on the case with a traumatic brain injury who relies on breaks, especially when staring at a computer screen,” Miller said. “She was told she wouldn't be getting any breaks during the exam.”
Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, said that the College Board’s response to a student’s need for accommodations was allocating extra time to complete the exam.
He also said that the College Board’s response for visually impaired students was to have a family member read exam contents for them instead of providing screen readers, which is a violation of both test security and social distancing.
Tom Richey is a high school history teacher who posts educational videos on YouTube to help students master AP history concepts. He said the College Board’s transition to an online platform was difficult for students to master.
“When you consider that most students cannot afford this, I believe it puts some students at a serious disadvantage,” Richey said.
ACES In Motion, located in Gainesville, is an organization that empowers African American youth to overcome systemic inequities while encouraging growth and development. According to Addison Staples, executive director at ACES In Motion, the organization accounted for disparities in online education and allowed students to attend class virtually and take computerized tests, such as AP exams.
ACES In Motion has distributed over 25 Chromebook computers and about $3,000 in financial assistance to help families with the costs of Internet, rent and utilities, Staples said.
Staples said that for the majority, the transition to online learning was efficient. However, “the danger is that if we pat ourselves on the back, we are not paying attention to those it is not going well for,” he said. “Most are our students.”