A lot has happened since the College Board first announced that the 2020 AP Chemistry ’exam’ would be going ahead in a vastly modified format. At the beginning of this process there was an enormous amount of uncertainty. Some (perhaps most) of that uncertainty still remains, but we are now at a point where we have just about all of the information that we are likely to get. As a result, I think it’s an appropriate time to summarize all of my thoughts regarding AP Chemistry in 2020.

When an unprecedented crisis hits the fan, you need strong leadership, that above all else does two things;

  • Communicates unambiguously with authority, and
  • Is able to make the RIGHT call, even if the consequences of those decisions are painful and inconvenient.

IB, A Level, GCSE, SAT, US state testing, MCAT, LSAT, and a host of other exams similar to AP, all cancelled, and yet here we are. There are multiple problems with the College Board’s decision to go ahead with the AP ‘exams’, and it’s difficult to know which of the following has been executed most poorly, but here are a few initial things to consider. Each of the following alone make the idea that AP Chemistry is being examined in a legitimate manner in 2020, frankly a joke.

  • The jettisoning of approx. 20-25% of the material, especially the nature of that material
  • Making a decision regarding which units should be tested, thus penalizing many students and teachers who have considered the content in a different order than the chronological order in the course and exam description
  • Going to an online, open book format

There are even more, profoundly important considerations in terms of many other groups of students, for example;

Students with English as a second language face a very significant issue. In many cases under normal circumstances, these students are relatively penalized in the free response section of the exam via their language challenges. They often make-up that shortfall via their performance in the multiple-choice section. The 2020 format means that these students will be directly penalized by an ‘exam’ that offers only free-response questions.

Secondly, in the Asia/Pacific region the AP chemistry ‘exam’ will be administered at one of two, local times 2020. Either at 2.00 AM on May 15th, or 4.00 AM on June 3rd. Clearly, ‘exams’ at these times are wildly undesirable, and clearly this will put these students at a significant disadvantage. This will be true in all subjects in 2020, where all AP ‘exams’ will be administered at midnight, 2.00 AM or 4.00 AM local time in large parts of Asia.

The issues outlined above are sufficient to make this year’s ‘exam’ farcical, but for me there are two further, standout, compelling, and absolutely irrefutable reasons to reject the AP chemistry ‘exam’ in 2020.

  • We (the children and teachers) have been preparing for seven months for a 3 hr. 15 min exam, over the entire content of the AP course, with 90 mins of multiple-choice that makes up 50% of the course, for it to be reduced to the proposed fiasco. For me, this ‘moving of the goalposts’ in and of itself is absolutely unacceptable. I suggest that it ought be unacceptable to every AP student and AP teacher as well.
  • Precisely what is there to stop any child consulting with any number of other people, to collectively work on the ‘exam’? The answer is NOTHING. Red-herring comments regarding plagiarism checks, identify confirmation, and Trevor Packer’s vague ‘reassurance’ that many (secret) protocols/security features will be place, do nothing to address this fact. Nothing.

Individually, these two facts on their own reduce the integrity of the exam to zero, which goes way beyond “an asterisk” accompanying the 2020 AP ‘exams’. It destroys their integrity completely and utterly.

The combination of all the above have rendered the AP Chemistry ‘exam’ in 2020 illegitimate as far as I am concerned. Its integrity is shot, and I want no part of the charade. It should be noted that my vocal stance on this will cost me significantly financially. I canceled my online AP review class for 2020. I cannot, with a clear conscience, deliver than course when I have no idea what the target is. In addition I have told a number of my AP tutoring clients that if I were them I would not take the ‘exam’ in 2020, and that I no longer know what we are working towards. I am losing literally thousands of dollars as a result of my stance. However, I believe that my integrity will be intact at the end of this process.

BTW, NONE of the above addresses the fact that countless numbers of students may be under enormous personal stress in terms of their own situations and families, related to a pandemic, that is causing wide-spread inconvenience, unemployment, and indeed death in many communities.

Some teachers have expressed sadness that their students will, ‘not be able to show what they know’, and ‘how hard that they have worked’. This is indeed a shame, but if they think that the lesson that is worth teaching them is that integrity does indeed have a price, then I think they are sadly mistaken. Life is sometimes hard to swallow, but now is one of those times that so many teachers seem so staggeringly anxious about; a truly teachable moment outside of AP chemistry. Do the right thing, keep your integrity, and reject this sham.

What about my own AP students and their class between now and the end of year, and the 2020 ‘exam’ as it relates to them? Good question. As an employee, I understand my obligation and responsibility fully. I will continue to ‘teach’ the AP class to the best of my ability, but inevitably, I will need to make one thing clear to my own students. At the beginning of the academic year I knew EXACTLY what the target was; now I have no idea what that target is, and I have a responsibility to tell the them that I don’t know. In that regard, I am no longer “preparing them for the AP exam”  as I had been up until these changes – that’s impossible, because I no longer know what ‘prepping for the AP exam’ means. I have no control over what they decided to do, but I will not report ANY AP scores for my students in 2020. Not ‘asterisked’ scores, none at all.

I called for students not to take the exam right at the beginning of this process, and I said that history would judge the CB poorly. The situation has now descended into farce. If teachers pursue this years ‘exam’ with their students, I believe that they have crossed their own line of integrity. I think that teaching students that integrity has a price is a terrible lesson, and a position that I think is indefensible.