Hundreds of recent Mills High School graduates and their parents gathered at the Millbrae school's auditorium Monday night to hear what they already knew: The students will either have to retake their Advanced Placement exams or forgo the college credit they thought they'd earned.
More than 600 test scores were rendered invalid for these college-bound graduates because of a "seating irregularity" reported anonymously to the Educational Testing Service, which creates and grades the exams.
Principal Paul Belzer said he believed the school provided an adequate testing environment. But the testing service disagreed.
When it was reported that Mills students took the exams at tables at which students faced one another, the testing service alerted school officials that these arrangements violated its rules (students are supposed to sit facing the same direction when they take the tests.) The school says it has been using these same seating arrangements for years.
High school students have the option to take Advanced Placement exams in a variety of subjects. Depending on their scores, they can then apply those scores to college credits. Some students planning to major in engineering or follow a pre-med track depend on such credits to complete their degrees within four years.
Mills sought legal assistance to deal with the Educational Testing Service, which creates, distributes and grades many standardized tests, such as the SAT, GRE and AP exams. The testing service is offering free August retests for students whose scores were invalidated. But for students about to enter college, August may be too late to get their scores sent to their universities.
Students wearing college sweatshirts — USC, UC San Diego, Yale — gathered at the high school with signs reading "No Misconduct, No Punishment," "More Than Scores, We Need Justice & Accountability" and "Equal Treatment For Skyline HS & Mills HS."
"We're just being proactive, like they taught us to do," said Erika Lee, 17, who is headed to Boston University in the fall. Her Advanced Placement scores were thrown out, but that didn't affect her enrollment.
"I know that many of my fellow peers are now having complete difficulty enrolling — basically, they've lost their privilege to enroll in college classes," she said.
For instance, Lee's classmate Keith Leung can't apply his credits to enroll in classes at UC Irvine.
In 2011, some students at Skyline High School in Oakland were found to have taken the tests under "irregularities," but only 30 students were forced to retest. At Mills, more than 200 students will need to retake the exams.
In addition to hearing from their principal and Deputy Superintendent Elizabeth McManus, parents and students heard from the Lozano Smith law firm, which is going to help them take legal action against the testing service and the College Board, which administers the Advanced Placement program. A closed meeting was scheduled Tuesday to jump-start the process, and parents and students can sign their names to the lawsuit in hopes of getting their scores validated and published.
The high school, meanwhile, encourages all the students to complete the replacement exams. It hopes the testing service will expedite the scoring process for students who need the credit to enroll in college classes. Another meeting to discuss the situation is scheduled for tonight.