Peter Bavis.

A top administrator at Evanston Township High School is accusing the agency that runs the Advanced Placement testing program of being “tone deaf” to the challenges students face during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, told the District 202 Board of Education earlier this week that “our AP students are very stressed out,” and the College Board, which administers the exams, is being “inflexible” about the amount of content to be tested.

AP exams give students the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school, by taking advanced level courses and then getting a certain score on the tests. For the first time, AP exams were given remotely in the 2019-2020 school year due to the pandemic.

Bavis said the number of ETHS students taking one or more AP exams (1,226) increased over the previous year, but the percentage of students completing a test (81%) actually decreased.

“This result is not too surprising,” Bavis said in a written report, “given the complications presented by the coronavirus and the sudden shift to remote learning and testing.”

Bavis told the School Board he has contacted the College Board to ask “in the middle of a pandemic, can you reduce the amount of material being tested?”

“I’ve heard nothing,” Bavis said. “It’s very frustrating” for the College Board to proceed with “business as usual,” he added.

In an emailed response to questions, Sara Sympson, a spokesperson for the College Board, told Evanston Now that the 2020-21 AP tests (to be given in 2021) will be “full-length traditional AP exams covering the full scope of the course.”

Sympson said there are several reasons for staying with the full exam. She said while colleges were willing to accept “abbreviated exams” last year due to COVID, “this year they expect exam scores to reflect the full scope of AP coursework.”

She also said “when we surveyed AP teachers, the majority urged us to stick with the full exam.”

Sympson said the College Board is offering a variety of tools to help “students and educators affected by school disruptions and closures.”

She said “additional information about contingency testing options will be announced in early February.”

Despite the controversy and challenges of remote learning and testing, those ETHS students who took AP tests in the past school year did quite well. Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said it was “remarkable” that Evanston students exceeded the nationwide test performance in 23 of 26 tested areas.

Still, the pandemic and its impact are by no means over. Board President Pat Savage-Williams said, “People are having a hard time in this country. I’m concerned about students taking AP exams who are stressed.”

Meanwhile, the two major statewide teachers unions are calling on the Illinois State Board of Education to postpone a different type of test — the standardized assessment tests taken by most students every year.

In a news release, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association are asking ISBE to pursue a federal waiver to postpone the exams because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

IFT President Dan Montgomery said, “The standardized tests developed to assess learning during a normal school year will prove inaccurate and unreliable, and they will take precious instructional time away from students when we need that now more than ever.”

IEA President Kathi Griffin said, “It is imperative that we look out for the social and emotional needs of our students during this pandemic as much as we look out for the academic progress.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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