Fight brewing over AP scores

Times Staff Writer

Calling themselves Justice for 375, a group of Orange County parents and students says it’s ready to fight a decision to cancel the high schoolers’ Advanced Placement test scores amid allegations of numerous testing violations at the school.

They gathered at a Rancho Santa Margarita park Wednesday evening to protest actions by the College Board and the Educational Testing Service to invalidate the scores of 690 college-level exams taken in May by hundreds of Trabuco Hills High School students.

By the end of the evening, they had a plan to mount public and legal pressure to force the testing agencies to reinstate scores for students who say they are innocent of cheating and fear that the score cancellations will jeopardize years of study.

It is one of the largest AP test imbroglios in a decade, according to the Educational Testing Service, and perhaps the most memorable in Southern California since 1982, when the scores of more than a dozen students in Jaime Escalante’s AP calculus class at Garfield High School were invalidated because of suspected cheating. The students retook the exams and passed, and the events were later turned into the film “Stand and Deliver.”


Parents and students are pointing fingers at Trabuco Hills High officials for mismanaging the exams taken by 385 students in early May. They say there were insufficient proctors in exam rooms and there was inadequate monitoring of students, who were allowed to sit too close together and face one another. Some proctors were seen reading or sleeping, and some left the rooms, according to students.

Amid the alleged lax attention, 10 students later conceded having cheated on statistics and macroeconomics exams by using cellphones to send text messages. Use of electronic devices is not allowed in rooms.

The Mission Viejo school, meanwhile, has reassigned an assistant principal who had been in charge of administering the exams, and it might mete out more punishment.

The Saddleback Valley Unified School District is weighing its legal options, consulting the counsel for the Orange County Department of Education in advance of a third appeal to the testing agencies to reconsider their decision.


In a statement released Thursday, district Supt. Steven L. Fish said that “the arbitrary decision by the Educational Testing Service to cancel all student scores for 10 different Advanced Placement [exams] is of great magnitude and affects nearly 400 students.”

“It is overly punitive and devastating to Trabuco Hills High School, the district and this community. While we admit some mistakes were made, to punish innocent groups of students is unprofessional and unnecessary.”

Dan McClure, 18, who started a Facebook website group for disgruntled parents and students and was appointed a co-chairman of Justice for 375, said six of his AP scores -- macro and microeconomics, biology, English, chemistry and statistics -- were nullified. AP exams test college-level work in 22 subject areas that can earn students credit and advanced placement at most colleges and universities.

“At first I thought, No, this can’t be serious,” the UC Berkeley-bound McClure said. “I was mad to say the least; I had to get people together. The only way we can do this is to show them that they can’t walk all over us.”


But the group will face a tough road. The Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service, which administers AP exams, the SAT and other tests for the College Board, insisted Thursday that reinstating the scores was off the table, setting up a classic showdown with irate parents who see trusted educational institutions -- in this case the testing agencies and the school -- letting them down.

“For some of these students, it’s the difference between entering college as a freshman or a sophomore,” said David McClure, Dan’s father. “It’s a first year of college credits; that’s how much it’s going to cost these students.”

Retesting has been scheduled for the week of Aug. 11. But many parents and students say the dates conflict with long-planned vacations and other commitments. Many say it will be difficult to prepare, again, for the tests.

Roger Faubel said that in a celebratory gesture, his daughter Alex, 18, burned the notes for four exams whose scores were subsequently canceled.


“Nobody has told the students how they’re going to get their primary textbooks to study,” he said, noting that most school offices are closed and teachers are away for the summer. “If they are going to do something, they need to do something to help the students soon.”

It’s definitely unfortunate, said Testing Service spokesman Jason Baran. The vast majority of students were honest, he conceded. If there had just been cheating, he said, only those students’ scores would be affected. But rampant irregularities at the test site left the agency no choice.

“Because of the overwhelming number of irregularities, the possibility exists that cheating was much more widespread,” he said. “When it comes to reporting scores back to students, high schools and universities, we need to have scores that we can confidently stand behind. These students did not test under standardized conditions that were fair and secure.”

Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass., organization that promotes fair and equal testing, said the Trabuco Hills incident reflected a general weakness in the nation’s testing system.


Most test proctors are teachers, guidance counselors and coaches who typically are underpaid for their time and may not take testing too seriously, Schaeffer said. “A basic notion of standardized tests is that the exams are given in the same manner everywhere, and in fact one hears all kinds of stories of huge differences in the quality of proctoring.”

Linda Riley, whose daughter Shauna, 18, is headed to the University of San Diego, said parents and students would not go down without a fight.

“It’s a sad hit for kids who studied so hard for 13 years and, honestly, don’t deserve to be treated this way,” Riley said.