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Students Prepare for AP Exams during COVID-19

Niu Gao April 30, 2020
photo - Teenager Girl Studying at Home

In response to disruptions from COVID-19, the 2020 AP exams will be open book/open note format and taken online at home, according to the College Board. The new exams are scheduled May 11–22. At 45 minutes each, the exams will be much shorter and cover less material—focusing on content covered prior to March school closures.

An increasing number of colleges, including those in the University of California system, have affirmed they will award college credit for 2020 AP exams that score a 3, 4, or 5. While these changes give flexibility to students still hoping to earn college credits, all students may not benefit equally.

Nearly 380,000 students in California public schools took an AP exam in 2019, up 63% from a decade ago. Participation among Latino students grew from 16% in 2009 to 33% in 2019. However, participation by African American students plateaued in 2015.

figure - Progress in AP Exam Participation Is Uneven

For disadvantaged and vulnerable students, limited access to learning options at home may cause a dip in participation and performance. Nearly half of students from low-income families do not have broadband access at home; neither do a third of Latino or African American students. And broadband access remains problematic in rural areas, where 41% of school-aged children do not have access.

Students with special educational needs may face additional challenges. The pandemic and resulting school closures have had a disproportionate impact on this student population, with many losing access to special education support professionals and services.

Efforts to close these gaps are underway: the state Superintendent recently formed a new task force to close the digital divide, and the governor announced several cross-sector partnerships to support distance learning. The California School Board Association just announced its effort to push for a $2 billion broadband bond on the November ballot to address rural connectivity.

AP assessments begin in just a few weeks. The College Board has suggested that students without internet or a device contact them for assistance, but the scope of the organization’s ability to respond is untested. In addition, test preparation and participation may be difficult for students who are also caregivers at home and lack separate, quiet testing space.

It is unclear how many California students will take the 2020 AP exams, but they are still being encouraged to do so. In an April webinar, the College Board noted that 86% of AP teachers across the nation will still assign a letter grade to their courses during this school closure, with bonus points for completing an AP exam.

At 91%, the vast majority of AP enrollees still want to earn college credits. Schools and teachers across the state are helping students navigate the new system. As the state ramps up efforts to implement distance learning and maintain continuity of learning amid school closures, AP results should be closely monitored so that we understand the impact on socioeconomically disadvantaged students and special education students.

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