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‘So much harder to understand’: Talawanda students taking AP tests online

<p>36% of the eighth grade have tested positive for COVID-19 or are currently quarantining, causing the students to be sent home until Sept. 30 at the earliest.</p>

36% of the eighth grade have tested positive for COVID-19 or are currently quarantining, causing the students to be sent home until Sept. 30 at the earliest.

The College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) testing is taking place online this year, and some Talawanda High School students are worried about how they will perform. 

According to the College Board’s website, exams can be completed on any device, including tablets and smartphones, and will be open-book and 45 minutes long. Countrywide testing begins May 11 and will only cover material students learned up until early March. 

Talawanda High School offers nine AP classes to students and had to adjust to preparing for the exams virtually. 

Kei Brown, a senior at Talawanda, is currently enrolled in five AP classes and said learning her AP material online was harder than her in-person classes.

“Learning over the internet with limited access to the teachers and friends was difficult,” Brown said. 

For the AP exams, Brown said she doesn't feel prepared.

“We have very limited time to do stuff [during the exam], so I’m worried [about] AP Chemistry or AP Calculus,” Brown said. “If I come across a question that I don’t remember, I won’t have time to look it up.”

Talawanda shifted its grading system to accommodate online learning. Students’ third-quarter grade was taken as a base grade, and any work in their fourth quarter will be added as additional credit, meaning students’ grades cannot drop lower than their base grade. 

Jean Patenam, a junior at Talawanda, said she was worried about her AP scores affecting the amount of college credit she receives. Patenam wants to attend Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

“We can’t fail the classes anymore,” Patenam said. “The only worry is failing the AP test.”

Patenam agreed with Brown about the difficulty of online learning.

“We hadn’t finished learning everything in class, so we had to translate it to online,” Patenam said, “which makes it so much harder to understand, especially if you’re used to a more hands-on approach.”

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Shr-Hua Moore, a senior at Talawanda, is taking three AP classes and plans on attending Miami University this fall. 

“For me personally, it’s definitely been harder,” Moore said, “Usually when I was going through the AP classes, it was a lot easier for me. We weren’t studying all the time, so it was a balance. Now it’s a little harder because it's only AP stuff, and there aren’t any opportunities to test my knowledge.”

Christene Alfonsi, an AP English Language and Composition teacher at Talawanda, has been an AP teacher for seven years. 

Alfonsi said she was really impressed with the College Board’s communication with teachers and administrators regarding the AP exams. 

“I think it was the right move to make all the tests 45 minutes,” Alfonsi said. “I think in this bizarre time that we’re in, knowing that, worldwide, half a million students take the [AP Language and Composition test], we can’t know what the education system looks like for every one of them.” 

Within her classroom, Alfonsi said it’s now hard to know if her students are understanding the material.

“I derive my energy as a teacher from the face-to-face feedback that my students give me, and not having their interaction makes me feel like I’m just sending these lessons out into the void,” Alfonsi said.

Patenam, who is taking AP Language and Composition, said she’s not too worried about that AP test because the class has been building skills throughout the entire year. 

Patenam’s biggest concern is her AP Biology test. 

“I have no idea how to do a science test AP-wise,” Patenam said. “There’s so many little things you have to remember that it makes me really concerned that the question could be [about] some obscure process that I totally forgot about.”

Brown said one of her concerns was the scoring of the tests. 

“I am not certain how the scoring is going to work at all,” Brown said. “I’m a little worried about that because I’d love to pass my exams.”

In a video on the College Board’s Coronavirus updates page, admissions leaders from colleges like the University of Maryland, Florida State University, University of California System, University of San Diego and more, encouraged students to continue to prepare for AP exams. 

A statement on the same page says, “We’re confident that the vast majority of Higher Ed institutions will award credit as they have in the past. We’ve spoken with hundreds of institutions across the country who support our solution for this year’s AP Exams.”

Bethany Perkins, director of admission at Miami, said Miami’s standard for AP credit scores will not change for the upcoming years. Perkins said Miami will honor official scores students receive on their exams, whether delivered in person or online. 

Alfonsi was slated to be an AP grader this year and was supposed to spend a week in Florida this June for grading. Now, Alfonsi will be grading remotely. 

“My hope, as a teacher, is that with just writing one essay, scores will be better than ever,” Alfonsi said about the AP Language and Composition exam. “I think students won’t be so mentally exhausted. My sincere feeling is that scores should be really good.”