Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2007

Advanced Placement tests lost; students miss out on college credit

September 27, 2007

Missing Advanced Placement tests left several Mill Valley High School students without a chance to get college credit, and left their parents wondering what went wrong.

Last spring, 43 students took a test to obtain college credit for their Advanced Placement American Government Class. The test was of two parts, multiple choice and free response or essay. For about $80 students had a chance to earn three or more credit hours at most universities by obtaining a score of 4 or 5 on the test.

However, when the results arrived later in the summer only two complete exams returned fully graded. College Board, a not-for-profit association that offers the Advanced Placement program and other college-related services, lost the free response portion of the remaining 41 tests. De Soto High School also participates in the Advanced Placement program.

When the tests left Mill Valley, they were clearly marked and shipped off in one box per the directions given by College Board, said Randy Burwell, Mill Valley counselor and Advanced Placement test administrator. Burwell said College Board must have received all of the tests if even two were sent back as they were all in the same box.

So what went wrong?

The answer is still unknown, said Tom Ewing, director of external relations for Educational Testing Services, the company that is under contract to College Board to administer, grade and report scores for the Advanced Placement program.

"We conducted an exhaustive search and did everything possible to locate them," Ewing said in an e-mail. "Unfortunately, we have not found them and now we must offer options to students to resolve matters and allow them to continue with their education.

"We are acutely aware that every missing piece represents a disappointed student and we regard each one as a significant failure by ETS."

Students had the option to receive a projected score based on their performance on the multiple choice section of the test, retake the free response question or cancel their score and receive a refund.

However, that wasn't good enough for Walter Rausch, whose son Alex's test was lost.

"My son is impacted by this severely because that was a prerequisite course for political science," he said. "He may end up going a whole semester longer than we had intended or go to summer school."

Rausch said it was unfair to judge someone's overall score based on the multiple choice questions and that it was unfair to retest so removed from the last class date.

"How can you project somebody's grade on an essay," he asked. "There is no doubt in my mind that he would have made a minimum of 4 out of 5. They offered my son a 3 for a grade."

The options available for students seemed like a worst-case scenario, Burwell said.

"Even if they were to retest there wouldn't be an opportunity to refresh," he said. "I had several students get a projected score of 3. Just looking at that list I thought, 'Oh that can't be,' because they had exceptional writing skills and some of them have earned national academic honors."

Ewing said the three options for lost tests are the best ETS can offer students and he said that less than .02 percent of exams are lost in transit with lost tests affecting about 50 schools a year. He said part of the reason the free response section could have been lost is because they were transported twice before being graded, first from the school to ETS, then from ETS to scoring locations.

There are methods in place to help prevent materials from getting damaged or lost, Ewing said. Serial-numbered bar codes are on each individual exam piece, within each individual box, within each individual shipment. Separate tracking slips are used for each box. Double strength boxes and pre-paid air bills are used for returning exam shipments.

Burwell said this was Mill Valley's second year of participating in the Advanced Placement program and despite the circumstances from the American Government class, the school plans on further expanding the program.

"When it works it is a really great program," he said. "For less than $90 you can have a three-hour credit that will transfer to any college or university in the country. I still believe in the College Board. It's just unfortunate that this happened."

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