Those affected by the invalidation of hundreds of Advanced Placement exams because of a seating mistake at Mills High School in Millbrae were pleased by the bill’s passage in the Assembly Thursday but wish it was in place before the struggle last year.
“No legislation would adequately compensate the Mills students and their parents for what they experienced, but we hope it will spare other students the same fate,” said Mills High School PTO President Paul Seto in an email.
In May 2013, some students taking AP exams at Mills High School were seated at round tables, a violation of testing protocols. After a student complaint prompted an investigation by Educational Testing Service (ETS), College Board, the test’s publisher, announced in July that it would cancel 641 test scores. Nearly 300 students were allowed to retake the tests in August.
That prompted outrage from students who argued they were punished for the mistakes of adults. Some felt ill-prepared to retake a test at the end of summer vacation, while others already had started college.
Students who pass and excel on AP exams, scored on a scale of one to five, are eligible for college credit.
A federal judge rejected a challenge seeking to reinstate the canceled scores because test-takers are warned that their scores can be canceled because of improper seating.
“Our hardworking students suffered greatly from an irregularity in the seating arrangement, which was a technical error since there was absolutely no evidence of any misconduct by any students at Mills, and the administration had ‘more’ proctors and took extraordinary steps to ensure the integrity of the testing,” past PTO co-president Chris Noma said in an email. “While parents and student appealed to the College Board to reconsider the cancellation of the test scores, the lack of any due process procedures in the Education Code, with no timelines for completing the investigation, seriously and adversely impacted the students ability to re-test and acquire college credits.”
The legislation, Senate Bill 915, was authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo and received a 75-0 vote in the Assembly Thursday. If amendments to it are approved by the state Senate and signed by the governor, it will create an expedited timeline for investigations and subsequent new testing.
The bill also requires test administrators to keep a seating chart, noting the Mills High investigation was delayed and a wide range of scores canceled because there was no documentation showing where students sat.
“As more and more students strive for academic excellence in entering college, it’s important that the rules for conducting advance placement tests are clear and fair for all test takers and for the schools administering these exams,” Hill said in an email. “I introduced SB 915 to ensure that the process for administering these exams — and for addressing any issues that arise as a result — is fair and timely for all concerned. I am delighted that the legislation received such strong support in the Assembly.”
Marc Friedman, vice president of the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees, said he hopes it passes the state Senate and gets signed by the governor.
“It’s a good bill and it’s an appropriate bill,” he said. “I’m glad it will hold ETS to a certain standard, so they can’t make decisions unilaterally.”
The process clearly needed some reform, said district Trustee Stephen Rogers.
“I’m glad for Jerry’s involvement and concern,” Rogers said. “He’s probably the hardest working guy for his constituents.”
While the affected students lost in a court battle, the bill changes how future testing irregularities should be investigated.
Others appreciate the legislation, but note that it is too late for students who already lost their AP scores, including Mills parent David Chow. His son lost five AP classes and as a result is at a lower class standing at University of California at Berkeley, making it difficult for him to get the classes he needs.
“That was a long time coming to give students due process,” he said. “It’s too late for the ones who were affected. ... For most of the basic classes he’d hope to take, he’s on the waitlist. This is all because one student who lied, a school district slow to respond and the College Board.”
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