A group of over 200 Mills High School students will have to retake a series of Advanced Placement exams after the College Board invalidated results from tests taken in May due to "seating irregularities."
A spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, which administers AP and other exams for the College Board, said Tuesday that several aspects of seating protocol were violated when the tests were given at Millbrae's Mills High School two months ago.
"There is a very specific set of protocols that have to be followed to maintain the integrity of test scores," ETS spokesman Jason Baran said.
Regulations require that students be seated at least five feet apart and face the same direction while taking exams, and that they never sit at circular tables, Baran said.
Acting on a tip from a student, ETS staff investigated the alleged breach of seating protocol at Mills High and found that the school had violated the testing guidelines.
"We found evidence of a lot of violations," Baran said.
Among them, investigators found that some students had faced each other and sat at round tables during exams, he said. As a result, the scores of over 600 AP exams covering 11 subjects were invalidated, he said.
San Mateo Union High School District Deputy Superintendent Liz McManus said the students are being unjustly punished for a situation over which they had little control.
"It's heartbreaking," McManus said. "The students have been honest, they studied, they prepared themselves."
McManus admitted that because of the configuration of some classrooms where the tests were administered, a handful of students did sit at circular tables.
However, the school had four adults per classroom supervising the test-takers and ensured that no one cheated, while most rooms did adhere to the seating ETS requirements, she said.
"ETS knows that these students did not cheat," McManus said. "We have students going off to four-year colleges who are expecting to get credit for these courses."
ETS and school district administrators are coordinating a re-take of the exams in August, but some students say that will be too late to get their credits accepted.
"I risk the possibility of having my admission to my college cancelled without further notice if I do not submit my AP scores by a certain (already extended) upcoming date," Jennifer Kao wrote on www.whyweneedourscoresback.com, a website set up for the student body to deal with the controversy.
More than 1,000 people have signed a petition at www.change.org asking Superintendent Scott Laurence to take action.
A second of two community meetings will be held at Mills High School on Wednesday for parents, students and school officials to discuss the issue, and the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees is holding a meeting today to further discuss how to move forward, McManus said.
Baran said it does not appear likely that the ETS and the College Board will reinstate the invalidated scores, but they will work to get the new results to colleges as soon as possible after the exams are retaken in August.
Wednesday's community meeting will take place at Mills High School in the West Gym at 7 p.m.
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