The parents of a handful of students who were unable to upload responses to online Advanced Placement exams last week have filed a federal lawsuit against the College Board, which owns the tests. The plaintiffs allege that the organization is guilty of breach of contract, gross negligence, and violating the Americans With Disabilities Act, among other claims.
The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest, joined the plaintiffs in seeking punitive and compensatory damages “in an amount that exceeds $500 million.” The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, also names as a defendant the Educational Testing Service, which develops, administers, and scores AP exams.
As The Chronicle reported last week, test takers around the world reported technical difficulties during the first five days of Advanced Placement exams, which students are taking online at home this month because of the pandemic. The most frequently cited problem was an inability to submit responses to completed questions.
The College Board has said that less than 1 percent of test-takers each day were unable to submit their answers because of technical challenges. But some high-school teachers and college counselors reported that that 10 to 20 percent of their students had been unable to upload their responses.
“Even if only 1 percent of test-takers could not transmit their answers because the College Board’s technology was not ready for prime time, at least 20,000 students were affected,” Robert A. Schaeffer, FairTest’s interim executive director, said in a written statement.
After the first week of the exams, which will continue through Friday, the College Board created a backup email submission process for students who encounter problems. That option, however, was not available to test takers who hit snags last week; the College Board told them that they could take a makeup exam in June. The plaintiffs seek to compel the College Board to score their answers.
The plaintiffs also allege that the College Board ignored warnings that the take-at-home exams would discriminate against under-resourced students and those with disabilities.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, includes a warning about future exams. “The College Board,” the plaintiffs allege, “intends to move all of its assessments to an at-home format, including the SAT; however, this year’s AP exam administration makes it perfectly clear that until the technical issues, the digital divide, and other inequities are adequately addressed, it cannot do so.”
In a written statement, Peter Schwartz, the College Board’s general counsel and chief risk officer, described how the organization redesigned its Advanced Placement exams this spring after a national survey of AP students revealed that “an overwhelming 91 percent” wanted to take the tests at home instead not taking them at all. Students who couldn’t submit test scores next week, he explained, could still take a makeup exam.
“This lawsuit is a PR stunt masquerading as a legal complaint being manufactured by an opportunistic organization that prioritizes media coverage for itself,” Schwartz wrote. “It is wrong factually and baseless legally; the College Board will vigorously and confidently defend against it, and expect to prevail.”
Read the lawsuit here: