Starting Monday, Advanced Placement exams, which test high schoolers' knowledge of college material, will take an unusual form. The high-anxiety, college credit tests normally last three hours and are taken in person. But this year, in response to disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak, the College Board, which administers AP exams, shortened the tests to 45 minutes and moved them online.
The new format has raised questions about fairness. For many students, changing the test site from a proctored classroom to their devices at home is a big deal.
High school senior Natalie Szewczyk from Ashfield, Mass., was planning to take her two AP exams in her Toyota Corolla at a nearby elementary school parking lot. She has a spotty Internet connection at her house because her rural community doesn't offer at-home broadband service. The parking lot seemed like a better option. But last week her school made plans to open up a small conference room for test-takers, which Szewczyk says came as a relief.
"I'm feeling a little more confident taking it in a conference room just because I know I'd have a sturdy desk as opposed to the driver's seat of my car, trying to type on my Chromebook while it's propped up against the steering wheel," she says.
Szewczyk is among the 3.4 million students who are registered to take AP exams online between May 11 and May 22.
In a statement, College Board spokesperson Jerome White said the organization decided to move forward with AP testing to give motivated students the opportunity to earn college credit.
The College Board has tried to address issues of fairness by offering additional online review material and help for students who may not have access to a computer. The organization has also created checklists for how to take the exams on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone.
But lots of teachers are still concerned about equity. Savannah Lodge-Scharff, an AP Physics teacher in Boston, works with many middle- and low-income students of color. In April, she told NPR that pushing forward with the test is unfair to students who are also juggling more responsibilities and stress because of the school closures.
"[They're] taking care of brothers and sisters," she said. "Some of my students are working 40 or 50 hours a week at the grocery store right now in the fear their parents are going to be laid off."
And then there's the question of geographic equity. This year's exams will be administered at the same time worldwide, meaning some students in Hawaii will begin their test at 6 a.m. and others in Hong Kong may test at midnight.