WOODLAND HILLS — In a rare case of cheating, Taft High School students will be required to retake portions of Advanced Placement college exams in English and biology following an investigation by the private testing service that administers the rigorous college-credit exams, officials said Wednesday.
A Taft student took a peek at essay questions on the Advanced Placement English exam five minutes before the test and told friends, giving them an unfair advantage, Taft Principal Ron Berz said. All 64 students who took the exam at Taft last month have the choice of taking the essay portion again on Monday or canceling their scores.
On the biology exam, a senior stole a portion of the test and shared it with seven of his classmates during a 15-minute break, said Joe Luskin, a Los Angeles Unified School District administrator who oversees west San Fernando Valley schools.
As a result, seven students were suspended, he said. They must either retake the essay portion on Friday, have their scores from the multiple-choice section duplicated for the essay section or cancel their scores.
The senior will be barred from retaking the exam. He has since transferred from the school, Berz said. The student, who was not identified, has been accepted to a University of California campus this fall.
All together, 65 students took the AP biology test at Taft.
"It's outright cheating," said Berz. "It's also a reflection of the pressure these kids feel to achieve. This is a shame."
The Educational Testing Service, which administers the exams, was alerted to the biology cheating three weeks ago. During interviews, one of the students revealed cheating on the English exam.
The Princeton, N.J.-based organization, which administers 558,330 tests at schools nationwide, investigates an average of 20 cheating accusations annually. Not all of those inquiries result in students being required to retake exams, said spokesman Ray Nicosia.
Taft students Wednesday said they were angry about having to retake the grueling tests--especially during graduation week. "It's terrible," said Keren Bahar, an AP English senior. "I'll never do as well as I did when I was at my peak of studying."
Judy Vanderbok, one of the two AP English teachers at Taft, said her students are unhappy. "The innocent always suffer along with the guilty," she said.
A senior who is headed for UC San Diego said he is angry that he must write essays for the AP English test. "It's just so annoying," the student said, declining to give his name. "I'm supposed to be getting ready for graduation--not to take the AP exam again."
Unlike the biology students, the English AP students do not have the option of using their multiple-choice scores for the essay portion, Luskin said. Answers in the multiple-choice section in English make up 30% of the total score, while the essays account for 70%. In biology, the sections are weighted equally.
Those who pass the tests may receive college credits and skip entry-level courses.
Cheating allegations are rare, district officials said. No LAUSD school has been investigated in the past several years.
The district's most notorious accusation of cheating was at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles in 1982. Calculus students--taught by celebrated instructor Jaime Escalante--were accused because of their high scores. The youngsters easily passed a second exam.
Advanced Placement tests are shipped to the schools under highly secure conditions with sealed pages, said the testing service's Nicosia. He added that monitors time the tests and ensure that students follow the rules.
"Whenever we receive any type of irregularity report, we take it very seriously," Nicosia said. "ETS has to stand behind the scores we send on to the colleges."
Both juniors and seniors take the tests, and the number of Los Angeles Unified students tested has increased over the past decade. Last year, 12,459 took the exams, more than double the 6,501 in 1988.
This month, a private high school teacher from Rolling Hills Preparatory School in Palos Verdes was fired for giving his students questions from the AP history test.