Seating snafu invalidates high school AP test results

The deadline for Martha’s Vineyard students to sign up to retake the exams is today.

In a major disruption to the summer plans of many Island students, the College Board testing service has determined that Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) students must retake advanced placement (AP) exams based on an allegation that improper seating arrangements during the testing this May could have led to cheating.

Despite appeals by Island school officials that the seating violation had no impact on the results, the College Board invalidated the scores from tests taken this spring and will require a retest by Island students.

The deadline for students to sign up for retests is Thursday, July 3. Depending on the subject, testing will take place between July 7 and July 14.

“The protocol that we did not follow is that we did not have all the students facing in the same direction,” acting MVRHS principal Matt D’Andrea told The Times.

News of the testing snafu surfaced last week when Mr. D’Andrea sent a letter to parents on Wednesday, June 25, to notify them that students would need to retake AP exams in U.S. History, English Language and Composition, English Literature and Composition, and World History.

“Based on an anonymous allegation of testing impropriety to Educational Testing Service, it was determined that during the AP testing there was a violation of one of the seating protocols for test security,” Mr. D’Andrea explained in his letter. “Consequently, the College Board has invalidated the results of the exam. The school has aggressively appealed this decision, arguing that despite the one oversight, the testing environment was secure and that test results are valid. Nevertheless, the appeal was denied.”

To help students prepare for retaking the exams, Mr. D’Andrea said the high school has arranged two-hour study sessions for them to review material with the course instructors the week before the retests, which will be conducted at MVRHS.

“Please be advised that all AP test retakes are optional,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “If your child chooses to not take the exam, your child’s AP designation with final grade will still be on his/her transcript, and the initial fee will be refunded.”

Mr. D’Andrea apologized for the error on the school’s part and for the frustration and inconvenience the College Board’s decision creates for students. “I appreciate how hard these students have worked to prepare for the exam, and we will be sure that the retake, along with any future exams, will be successfully coordinated following all of the College Board’s testing protocols,” he wrote. “Please accept my sincere apology for this error, as I am aware of the effect that this decision has on your family.”

In an email response to a request for comment from The Times. Superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) James Weiss said he was very disappointed in the College Board’s decision. “While there was a slight violation of a seating protocol during some of the testing, the High School found it to have no impact upon the results,” he said. “Our students worked very hard and should not be penalized in this way.”

Testing service makes its case

The College Board is a not-for-profit organization made up of more than 6,000 educational institutions worldwide, according to the College Board website. It helps students prepare for transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and success, including the SAT exam and Advanced Placement Program.

The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies while they are still in high school. Many four-year colleges and universities, but not all, grant students college credit and/or advanced placement in a higher level course, based on their successful AP exam scores.

The College Board contracts the Educational Testing Service (ETS), also a nonprofit, to administer the Advanced Placement Program.

In an email to The Times, ETS deputy spokesman Jason Baran explained the service’s position. “Ensuring fairness for students during test administrations is a top priority for the College Board and its global test administration and security provider, ETS,” Mr. Baran said. “We take very seriously any concerns that are raised about testing sites or administrations. Based on information provided about the May 2014 AP administration at Martha’s Vineyard High School, it was determined that students taking exams in AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP U.S. History, and AP World History were not seated appropriately according to the test administration and security guidelines provided to testing coordinators in advance of the exam. As a result, the decision was made to invalidate the scores.”

Mr. Baran said ETS would not release the specifics about the seating issue.

Moving forward

This week, high school officials remained mum about how the lapse occurred or who was responsible.

Mr. D’Andrea, a former elementary school principal in Mattapoisett, joined the superintendent’s staff last fall as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools. Mr. Weiss appointed Mr. D’Andrea as the high school’s acting principal on April 29, the day former principal Stephen Nixon submitted his letter of resignation. The AP exams were administered during the first two weeks in May.

The Times asked Mr. D’Andrea in an email Friday who monitored the testing and whether the seating arrangement was different this year than in the past.

“As far as who oversaw the testing, right now we are focusing on what is best for our students moving forward,” Mr. D’Andrea responded. “I have not seen any of the seating arrangements from past years.”

Mr. D’Andrea would not be more specific about who oversaw the testing. Guidance secretary Bonnie Tilton fielded a call to guidance director Mike McCarthy. Ms. Tilton said the staff was told that Mr. McCarthy could not help with the AP testing issue and to direct any calls with questions about it to Mr. D’Andrea.

Effects on students

For some students, the retesting will be more than an inconvenience. In an email to The Times last Friday, Louis de Geofroy of West Tisbury described some of the ramifications.

“In my daughter’s case, she will be out of the country,” Mr. de Geofroy said. “The AP exam is a test for college credit and the culmination of a year’s worth of study. This is a huge problem even for students who will be able to take the scheduled retest because they will have to revisit all the material in the entire course to prep again.”

Mr. de Geofroy also questioned the College Board’s decision, based on the testing experiences his two daughters have described to him. “Both my older daughter, in college, and the one who took the test this year say that the seating plan required by the testing service is actually worse as far as cheating goes,” he said. “Someone needs to be held accountable and perhaps enough bad press would cause the testing agency to reconsider.”

Barra Peak, the high school’s class of 2014 salutatorian, said her AP English Literature and Composition test score was invalidated. Although she has already been accepted to Harvard University in the fall, Ms. Peak said lacking the test score could potentially affect her getting college placement or credit.

“For me, it’s really just frustrating,” she said. “I may not retake it. It’s not important for me that I have a score from that test, but for a lot of people who haven’t been accepted yet to college or are trying to finalize their plans, this would really be a nightmare.”

Like many of her fellow graduates, Ms. Peak said time constraints are a big consideration in retaking the test, as she is already working at her summer job at Camp Jabberwocky.

“I don’t think I would review for the English test again, because it’s basically writing, but for kids who have to retake a history exam, that’s brutal, to have to review all of it,” she said.

Colleen McAndrews, the MVRHS school committee chairman, told The Times in a phone call Tuesday she didn’t have a comment about the AP testing issue because the school committee had no involvement in the matter, other than to be informed of it by Mr. D’Andrea.

“Matt has handled everything, and we think he’s done an amazing job,” Ms. McAndrews said. “We’re very appreciative of everything Matt and the teachers are doing to see that the kids that are having to retake it are prepared. Some of them, though, won’t be able to do that because they are out of the country or have commitments to jobs.”

Putting aside her school committee role, Ms. McAndrews said she did have a comment as the parent of a daughter whose test scores were invalidated: “My heart goes out to every one of the kids that has to start studying again. They worked hard all year in those courses.”

Study sessions, exam schedule

Students who wish to retake the exams must call Ruda Stone, administrative assistant to the principal, at 508-693-1033, ext. 126, or email her at rstone@mvyps.org by Thursday, July 3, according to Mr. D’Andrea.

The study sessions will be held between July 7 and 10, from 9 to 11 am as follows: World History, July 7, Room 415; U.S. History, July 8, Room 102; English Literature and Composition, July 9, Room 515; and English Language and Composition, July 10, Room 413.

Exam retakes are scheduled July 14–17 from 8 am to 12 noon in the high school’s library conference room as follows: World History, July 14; U.S. History, July 15; English Literature and Composition, July 16; and English Language and Composition, July 17.