Mills High School parents and students are working to reverse the College Board’s decision to invalidate tests in 11 Advanced Placement subjects taken this May because of seating irregularities.
The decision, disclosed Wednesday, affected more than 200 students and resulted in more than 600 AP exams being canceled because students tested in multiple subjects. The College Board composes, sells and distributes the tests that yield high school students college credits.
It is unclear what the specific irregularities were, but Kirk Black, San Mateo Union High School District associate superintendent, said it appears that one student complained to Educational Testing Service, the College Board’s security provider that administers the AP Exams, back in May about seating arrangements that violated protocol. Black said the student didn’t notify Mills or the district, but ETS directly.
The letter, addressed from Mills Assistant Principal Valerie Arbizu and dated July 12, informed AP test takers that they would need to sign up for retests by July 24. Retests would run from Aug. 5-12.
Recent graduate Jad Thawi will be attending Loyola Marymount University this fall and is worried about how this will affect his ability to graduate on time.
“My major is engineering and it’s very hard to get out in four years,” Thawi said. “Without the scores for general ed classes like chemistry and statistics, it may take an extra semester or even a year and I won’t get financial aid for that time; it’s a burden for us.”
Another recent graduate, Grant Murphy, has been in touch with staff with U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, about the issue and others have contacted state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.
Others say they could lose their places at college because of the invalidation and say their college applications are on hold due to the delay of AP test scores.
In a 2008 case of AP score invalidations at Trabuco Hills High School in Southern California, all of the students decided to sign up for retests and the decision to invalidate the previous scores held. For this reason, Murphy said he has decided not to sign up for a retest.
“I was incredibly frustrated when I heard because it would be a huge time commitment to restudy all the information again by myself,” said recent Mills graduate Grant Murphy. “I’m quite hopeful the decision will be reversed. This has opened my eyes to the fact that the College Board has a near monopoly over exams, they’re quite expensive, there’s no competition and no oversight.”
David, a parent of a recent graduate attending UC Berkeley in the fall who chose not to disclose his last name, is working with other parents to fight the College Board’s decision.
“The kids’ mindsets are getting ready for college now and some are taking summer school,” David said. “They should have retested right away. For the kids, this is just so unfair; they work really hard on it.”
District officials said they are waiting to see if there is an appeal process and determine how the exams were invalidated. Black said they are working with the district’s legal firm to see what else they can do to reverse the decision. He said he is troubled that it doesn’t appear that there wasn’t a full investigation and proctors weren’t interviewed.
“It’s inordinary in my experience to see this many exams, in 11 subjects over two weeks, invalidated,” Black said. “They will hopefully modify the decision on these tests.”
Former Millbrae councilman Paul Seto has a son who took AP tests this past spring at Mills. His son is out of the country and won’t be able to retake the tests. He hopes the school district will put up a good fight.
“This is overkill,” Seto said. “There was no student misconduct, so they shouldn’t victimize the students. I don’t want the students to be cynical. Retaking the tests doesn’t cut it since they prepared for these tests all year.”
The community is continuing to organize. At press time, almost 900 people had signed a Change.org petition asking Superintendent Scott Laurence to hold Mills’ administration accountable for the cancellation of the AP scores. Students created the site whyweneedourscoresback.com to allow students, teachers and parents to voice their reasons for needing the test scores.
Tom Ewing, director of external communications for ETS, confirmed that scores from AP Exams administered at Mills this spring have been invalidated due to testing seating irregularities at the school that violated the test administration and security guidelines.
“We understand how disappointing this decision is to the many students who worked hard to prepare for their AP Exams in May and must now retake those exams,” Ewing said. “We are working with school personnel to coordinate a retest and ensure the successful administration of AP Exams at Mills High School in the future.”
More than 4 million AP Exams were administered in May 2013, with fewer than 6,000 exams invalidated due to issues including testing irregularities, security issues and lost/missing answer sheets, according to ETS.
ETS did validate Mills’ foreign language tests since these were taken separately on computers, Black said. Scores were supposed to be released July 5.
The school district has scheduled a community meeting 7 p.m. Monday at the Mills’ Faculty Lounge. Another meeting is planned for Wednesday.
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