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Advanced Placement (AP) Outrage

In a recent interview with Gabrielle Wanneh of Education Week, I discussed my Open Letter to The College Board about the 2020 Advanced Placement (AP) Exams. In my piece, I specifically highlighted the issues about the integrity of the the modified, online format, which as of Monday, May 11, thousands of students have begun taking:

…students often share to their consternation, that their peers cheat during normal circumstances, so worry that in the isolation of their own homes, what’s to stop a student from mounting “cheat sheets” out of sight of the camera? Given the increased probability that students may choose to cheat, how will the integrity of those who do not cheat be protected? 

Open Letter to The College Board about the 2020 Advanced Placement (AP) Exams, March 26, 2020

While I received no response from The College Board to my questions, nor to my second, follow-up letter, sure enough, on Sunday, May 10th, ahead of the first AP Exams—Physics C: Mechanics, Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism, and the United States Government and Politics—Vice President of Advanced Placement for The College Board Trevor Packer tweeted:

Depsite his certainty of guilt, Mr. Packer offered no evidence, no understanding of how the “ring of students” were identified, in other words, he demonstrated no due process. What recourse did the students have to defend themselves or disprove the accusations? A call to a college admisisons officer about a student’s alleged academic dishonesty can have long-standing consequences, and without due process, is Mr. Packer simply diminishing a student’s reputation without cause?

When Ms. Wannah of Education Week attempted to understand Mr. Packer’s assertions:

The College Board stated that it cannot provide further details regarding this or any specific incident in relation to cheating.

Education Week, May 12, 2020

Also, in the Education Week article, Akil Bello, senior director of advocacy and advancement for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, further elaborated:

…he felt that the College Board had taken a somewhat unprecedented step of “convicting students of pre-crime” in regard to the cheating accusations, and that their concern over what will happen to students who are caught cheating or planning to cheat seems to outweigh their concerns for fair and equitable testing.

Education Week, May 12, 2020

A high school junior shared her doubts about Mr. Packer’s accusations, wondering if the “ring of students” was fabricated as a scare tactic to warn students not to cheat. Echoing the high school junior’s sentiments, as well as questioning the integrity of the 2020 AP Exams to equal college-level work, in a Tweet, Jon Boeckenstedt, Vice Provost of Enrollment Management at Oregon State University stated:

In a single, finger-wagging, public shaming Tweet, Mr. Packer cast aspersion on every soon-to-be test taker, inciting frustrations as students made final preparations for the tests. His “warning” seemed insenstive to the reasons why students are taking the 2020 AP exams in the first place.

While I do not condone cheating, like I shared with Ms. Wannah of Education Week:

“What we’re not looking at is why are these young minds thinking that their only ability to do well on these tests is to cheat?” Yoshikawa said. “We’re sort of accusing them without giving them any evidence. They’re having fingers pointed at them and they don’t even really know why.”

Education Week, May 12, 2020

Many of them are taking the AP Exams trying to maintain their academic reputations and remain competitive for college admissions. They worry about losing the ability to demonstrate their academic acumen with a letter grade, as their schools have implemented universal Pass/No Pass-style marks for the spring semester, so are taking AP Exams to demonstrate their understanding.

As one high school junior shared with me on Tuesday, he believed his AP scores would show admissions officers his comprehension of the course material, now that he is only going to have a “Pass” in all his courses for the semester. When I shared admisisons officers advice, that per their standing policy, AP Exam scores will again not be considered as part of his admisisons evaluation for Fall 2021, he was disappointed.

Like we’ve previously discussed, here and here, the current Gen Z students take AP Courses and subsequent AP Exams to effectively compete in the academic meritocracy to obtain the coveted college acceptance as their Golden Ticket to prosperity, which didn’t change just because we’re experiencing historic social and economic upheaval. Although we’re all making the best of a complicated situation, Mr. Packer’s and The College Board’s lack of transparency adds to students’ current anxiety and frustration, as well may fundamentally alter the academic meritocracy, thus have lasting consequences for The College Board.

For the full text of the recent Education Week article featuring my expertise as Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy read: Student Cheating at Issue as College Board Rolls Out Online AP Exams


For 17 years, Jill Yoshikawa, EdM has advised thousands of families as they make complicated educational decisions. She can be contacted at jill@creativemarbles.com.