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A Defense of the 2020 AP Exams

The 2020 AP exams are going to be something to look back at for a long, long time. Technology failures, questions about fairness, the fact that some of the tests only had one question—these things that people have thought about—and rightfully so. However, while I am no fan of the College Board like most of my peers, I have to say, I think they did some real good given the global pandemic that unfortunately continues to rage onwards.

I think that we fail to consider what would happen if we were to not have the 2020 AP exams. And to be able to evaluate that scenario, I think that we need to consider why AP exams even exist. I'm not here to argue that the exams are this perfect, fool-proof method of testing knowledge. They're not. But what they are is a standardization mechanism. They present a benchmark to test the knowledge of a student regardless of the circumstances from which they come.

Classes in high school, to some degree, are random. Grading can be random. As much as schools try to make things fair, they're just not. In my school, for example, we have two teachers who teach AP European History (great course, by the way). One scales the class, one doesn't. One assigns close to 2 hours of homework each night, the other doesn't. Most importantly, the distribution of grades in the two classes are completely different—one has a class average of around 76%, the other ensures that each quarter, the average is 86%.

AP exams can be the equalizer. They can make sure that "learning" is standardized across the entire cohort of students taking the course. The exams have the potential to get rid of any bias or inequality that may exist between schools, or even within the same school. Because if you master what the College Board deems necessary to master (either independently or with a teacher's help), you will almost always get a 5.

So, when people say that it was the wrong decision to continue the exam series in 2020, or that teachers should have the opportunity to give out scores to their students, I have to respectfully disagree. There's value in independent evaluation of work. It's important that students have the chance to be given a consistent assessment of their work. I'm not saying that the two question exams were fair or even comprehensive. What they were, however, was an incentive to study all of the material thoroughly, because of the reality that mastering the College Board's prescribed curriculum will always yield a passing, if not high score. Because of the randomness of school, we need an outsider to evaluate what we know, and despite the two question exams, it seems that the College Board has tried to do just that.