Parents prep lawsuit: Mills High School community frustrated over AP score invalidations

Angela Swartz/Daily Journal Students and parents at the Mills High School gym gather to speak out about AP test invalidations at a community meeting last night.

Hundreds of frustrated Mills High School parents and students spoke out at a community meeting last night in Millbrae about the College Board’s decision to invalidate Advanced Placement exams taken this May because of seating irregularities.

And legal action seems the likely next step.

Last week, the San Mateo Union High School District’s reported that test distributor College Board invalidated tests in 11 AP subjects taken this May because of seating irregularities. The decision affected more than 200 students and resulted in more than 600 AP exams being canceled because students tested in multiple subjects.

Educational Testing Service, the College Board’s security provider that administers the AP Exams, stated ETS was notified by one student who complained via email back in May.

During testing, Mills placed some of the students in the library at tables sitting diagonally across from each other since Mills didn’t have enough classroom space. The College Board regulation manual stated this may lead to invalidations since the ideal seating arrangement states students are supposed to sit in individual desks, facing the same direction. The school district confirmed that the ETS had no suspicions of cheating, but ETS views it as a problem with the test’s integrity.

During the meeting’s public comment period, many parents and students brought up a desire to seek legal action against ETS to release the scores.

Mills parent Paul Seto, a former Millbrae councilman, said he thinks ETS will not take the students’ appeals seriously until a lawsuit is filed. Seto hopes the district decides to file a suit as soon as today.

Otherwise, Seto and other parents will likely seek legal action on their own.

Parent Ken Wong said parents and students should have been able to get involved back in May.

“What are you going to do?” Wong said. “ETS seems to hold all the cards.” One parent cited the 2011 Oakland’s Skyline High School case against ETS that included testing irregularities. The ETS conducted the statistical evaluation and determined that only 30 students had to retest, and not the entire school.

“The only difference I can see between our school and Skyline’s is a socioeconomic difference,” the parent said.

The crowd erupted in applause and cheers when recent graduate Grant Murphy said the test is more than just the $90 fee.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about our futures,” Murphy said. “It seems like a rip-off.”

Recent graduate Jessica Liang, who will attend Yale University in the fall, said signing up for a retake could hurt their case if they took it to court. Liang cited a 2008 case of AP score invalidations at Trabuco Hills High School in Southern California, in which all of the students decided to sign up for retests and the decision to invalidate the previous scores held.

Elizabeth McManus, deputy superintendent of business services, represented the district at the meeting, as other district officials were away at a conference.

McManus said the district became aware of situation about seating irregularities mid-May. The invalidations were not warranted and the district didn’t expect such a harsh penalty, she said.

McManus recommended students retake the test, but take an alternate track as well that involves legal action.

The district legal counsel Lozano Smith Attorneys said the district had a teleconference with College Board on Friday and yesterday.

“College Board is resolute so far in their decision,” their counsel said at the meeting. “They believe a thorough investigation was done and consider the original test to be totally invalid. We suggested statistical analysis to see if seating irregularities made a difference and they said they don’t do statistical analysis.”

The College Board has identified 44 colleges for all students whose scores were invalidated, the district stated. The district’s lawyers said the College Board is offering to work with students to expedite the retest and a write a letter to any college students apply to that the retest is not the fault of the student.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Mateo/San Francisco spoke at the meeting and said his office has contacted ETS. He is interested in this particular issue and there is something to be said about fairness, he said.

“Students were taking the exam under rules they were given,” Yee said. “Right now we are at a point where I don’t have anything more we can say. It seems as if the College Board has had different results and conclusions depending on what area.”

A new petition has a little more than 1,000 signatures from supporters asking the Board of Trustees of the College Board to reconsider the cancellation of the school’s AP scores. Students, teachers and parents have continued posting on to explain their reasons for needing the test scores.

Overall, more than 4 million AP Exams were administered in May 2013, with fewer than 6,000 exams invalidated due to issues such testing irregularities, security problems and lost/missing answer sheets, ETS stated.

For now, the College Board is still saying AP test takers need to sign up for Aug. 5-12 retests by tomorrow, July 24. There are no alternate retesting dates. A refund is another option. The scores were supposed to be released July 5.

Another community meeting is set for tomorrow night at Mills, the location is to be determined.

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