Firm faults school in AP exam lapse

The Baltimore Sun

The College Board chided an acclaimed Anne Arundel County high school yesterday for lax test monitoring that students say permitted cheating on the Advanced Placement U.S. history exam.

The AP program's parent company said an inexperienced proctor failed to follow rules banning cell phones and talking in the May 11 incident, which some top-ranked students at Severna Park High School have said is only the latest example of rampant cheating that has gone unchecked.

Such serious proctoring mistakes happen once or twice a year out of the more than 2.5 million AP tests administered nationwide, said the College Board, which also found "inappropriate behavior" among some of the students.

It and school officials, however, carefully steered clear of using the word "cheating."

Three unidentified girls will not be allowed to retake the test but can keep their history class grades, the school system said yesterday. The other 42 students in the "compromised" classroom must take the test again tomorrow.

"I am as concerned about the behavior of the adults as I am of the students in this situation," Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell said in a prepared statement. "The adults, from the proctor to the test coordinator to the principal, are responsible for creating an environment in which testing can be done with the utmost integrity. I am deeply disappointed that this may not have occurred in this situation."

Maxwell said he was so troubled by the findings at Severna Park High that he has ordered a wholesale review of AP testing procedures in all of the district's 12 high schools. He also promised that "disciplinary action will be taken as appropriate."

Spokesman Bob Mosier said the schools chief would not expand on his statement, including explaining who would be punished and how.

The reports have brought a crush of news media attention to a school more accustomed to receiving accolades for high test performance than fending off scandal. Four television news crews waited outside the school during dismissal, Mosier said, eager to talk with students and teachers about a recent student survey in which about 50 percent of the 300 respondents said they believe a "culture of cheating" exists at the school.

According to the survey -- shared with Principal James B. Hamilton yesterday morning by a group of top students who said the problems had gone unaddressed for too long -- respondents estimated that up to half the student body cheats and that teachers don't hold enough power to stop cheaters.


In a statement Hamilton issued after meeting with the students, he apologized for "any consternation caused to students and their parents by any deficiencies in properly administering the exam."

He also said he was "troubled" by the student survey results and planned to form a committee of parents and school officials to draft a new honor code.

School officials compiled a 75-page report immediately after several students came forward with the allegations that at least one student unsealed the essay portion of the exam, stuffed it into a bag and took it into the bathroom. The girl shared the essay questions with two friends, and witnesses said they found them huddled over a review manual hunting for answers.

The girls and other students, the witnesses said, also sent text-messages and whispered to each other during the four-hour exam.

"The result was that the testing room was disruptive to students and made it nearly impossible for students to test to the best of their ability," said Tom Ewing, a spokesman for Educational Testing Service, which designs and administers the AP tests under a contract with the College Board.

'So angry'

A 16-year-old junior, who said she saw the girls in the bathroom and asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said she is happy the girls won't be allowed to retake the test.

"It would be nice if I didn't have to take the test again too because it's a four-hour exam, but I'm just happy that they're not going to be allowed to take it," the girl said.

"Everyone was still so angry about it all this morning because it seemed like the girls had just gotten away with it. Everyone expects us to be this great school, but they just don't know what happens behind closed doors," she said.

Peter Thompson, a junior ranked No. 1 in his class who led the call for the survey, said he has seen other blatant cheating, including students stealing tests and answer keys from teachers' desks and students swapping answers to homework assignments.

"I was not sure whether I should pursue this [survey about cheating] because I thought that the majority of students would be against it," he said this week, "but everyone was so angry about the way the AP test was handled that we had to do this."

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