As I noted in the previous post, thousands of students who took AP exams found that their submissions were rejected. The College Board claimed that the fault was in the students’ browsers. It was, of course, blameless.

David Kristofferson–teacher, scientist, IT expert–clarifies the problem. The fault was with the College Board’s overloaded server and bandwidth, not the students’ browsers.

Every students, everywhere in the world, was expected to take the exam at exactly the same time, even in the middle of the night. Everyone was given a five-minute warning before the exam timed out. Every student had a countdown clock in front of them. Almost every one of those students (one million?) hit SEND at the same time.

Kristofferson writes:

One should not blame students for continuing to work a bit longer given these instructions. I heard reports from one of my students who uploaded successfully with 3 minutes left on the timer. Students who went beyond that time point may have encountered increasing difficulties as the system bogged down. This might vary depending upon the number of exam takers on each AP exam.

In fact, students told me that there is a Practice demo that they did try in advance of the actual test.

Undoubtedly, because there was not a load on the system when they tried the demo, they found that the upload went quickly and were lulled into thinking that it would be similar on exam day. That might be naive on their part, but considering that these students were taking a high-stakes abbreviated exam with a countdown timer staring them in the face the entire time, it is easy to understand their motivation to try to gamble at the end. Of course the College Board can say that they were warned as in the block quote above.

Students were warned not to wait until the last minute to submit their answers.

But note once again the imprecision of the warning! Why did the system not tell them on screen to STOP WORK NOW AND UPLOAD IMMEDIATELY OR YOU RISK LOSING ALL CREDIT FOR THIS PROBLEM. ???

Why didn’t the College Board (which gets around $3 billion a year in revenue – it is not a fly-by-night startup with no resources), after initial reports of problems last week, add more server and network bandwidth capacity??

This is an example of what happens when the American public education system is turned into a high-stakes testing system like the Chinese gaokao and other similar national tests in Asia.

Our country made tremendous advances after World War II in educating our citizens, and during that time we put a man on the Moon, began the computer revolution and the Internet; U.S. scientists won numerous Nobel Prizes, and we led the world in R&D and patent applications…

Unfortunately our local high school district and others around the country continue to think that AP is a “high quality curriculum,” when in fact its main purpose is to be purposely difficult and trap-filled to spread out the scoring curve. It fulfills that mission admirably, but this does not mean that AP is an effective learning program. There is no denying that many people think that AP is an essential route to college. However private schools are increasingly dropping this system, and we should too.

I was in high school during the era that preceded high-stakes testing. There was the SAT, but no one practiced for it, no one was tutored. It was a test that students took “cold” because the College Board assured the public that coaching would not change your score (not true, so now we have a major test tutoring industry for the SAT and for AP tests). There were no graduation tests, at least not in the Houston public schools; high school graduation depended on passing the required courses in English, science, mathematics, and social studies.

It is past time for our policymakers to step back and ask bluntly why we subsidize a massive testing industry that determines our children’s futures but is riddled with glitches, errors, and flaws.