Legislators are beginning to dig into the case of 641 invalidated Advanced Placement tests taken at Mills High School this past May.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, led a conference call with Mills High School students and parents, representatives from the test’s distributors College Board, test security providers Educational Testing Service and the San Mateo Union High School District last night to discuss the tests that were not scored due to concerns about seating irregularities.
Trevor Packer, senior vice president of Advanced Placement and College Readiness at College Board, revealed that nine schools had their scores thrown out this year because of seating irregularities and that the Mills investigation stemmed from a complaint issued by a student on May 13. He added that 61 schools had scores canceled because of procedure violations.
Packer said on the call that officials from Mills High School signed a document that stated the correct seating charts were in place prior to the examinations.
“The extent of the irregularities [at Mills] were so large that statistical analysis is not an option,” Packer said. “The school did not provide us with seating charts and it would be highly suspect if they presented them now. There were significant delays from Mills for requests of the charts and most information was not provided by them.”
Packer said the fact that the students were seated close enough to see each others’ test with the lift of an eyelid gave students unfair advantages.
However, Speier took issue with the emphasis placed on seating.
“The seating irregularities issue is on page 46 of your manual,” Speier said on the call. “If it’s a critical element in the test taking situation, you need to make it much more upfront.”
Packer responded that having correct seating arrangements are an element on test administrators’ training.
“Most schools would have a difficult time meeting the requirement because of spatial needs,” Mills High School Principal Paul Belzer said on the call.
Other local legislators have expressed concern about the invalidations.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he doesn’t believe the students should be punished.
“It’s incredible they can act in the manner they did,” Hill said. “If they haven’t been able to determine cheating, there’s no harm done. If they have the ability to do [an] algorithm to determine cheating, they should use it.”
Hill sees an issue if the only measure of credibility in test taking is by the angle of the desks and believes there is something wrong with the procedure. He is open to the possibly of more oversight of ETS and said he knows this is an important issue to the community.
Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, wrote a letter to David Coleman, College Board president and chief executive officer, requesting reconsideration of the decision.
“I understand that there has been no finding of student misconduct, yet the College Board’s draconian decision is punishing students,” Mullin wrote. “Absent a finding of at least one example of student misconduct or cheating, I can’t fathom why all students are being penalized.”
Last week, the district has hired on Burlingame’s Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy law firm to work collaboratively with district counsel Lozano Smith Attorneys to sue College Board over the invalidations.
Packer said he can’t comment on if students will impact the litigation if they retake the test.
The situation began July 17 when the school district reported that Educational Testing Service, the College Board’s security provider that administers the AP Exams, invalidated tests in 11 AP subjects taken this past spring because of seating irregularities. Packer said 98 tests, the world language exams, at Mills were administered properly.
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