More than 100 students at Williamsville North High School had a rocky finale to the end of their school year, as allegations of high-tech cheating on two Advanced Placement exams led to a mass cancellation of half of two tests.
Allegations that cheating occurred on the AP U.S. history and AP biology exams were brought to officials when Williamsville North students called a cheating hotline, according to Tom Ewing, a spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, which designs and administers AP exams and is contracted by the College Board.
A Testing Service investigation determined that the second section of the exams, essay segments that are sealed separately from the first multiple-choice sections, were opened before the exams and the topics divulged, Ewing said.
"We don't know how widely it was shared," he said. "The only thing we [could] do is cancel the section."
Students said that about one week after the U.S. history exam, which was taken by about 100 students, then-Principal Robert Tubbs informed them as a group that cheating had occurred and that the essays would be discarded.
One student, who took the history exam in the same room where the cheating began, said that the sole alleged cheater had broken the seal of the second section and used his cell phone to take photos of the topics and then look up answers with the phone's Internet function.
Another student, Peter Narby, 17, said he knew something was wrong when students began discussing specific topics, such as farming, during the mid-exam break.
"When I got to the section, I thought, someone must have opened it up," he said.
After reviewing other exams, investigators determined that the second section of the AP biology exam, which was taken by about 60 students, was also opened prior to being administered.
They also conducted a student survey and called witnesses during the investigation.
One student was charged with cheating, although students said information from the free-response sections had been discussed among an undetermined number of classmates during breaks in the exam.
Administrators gave students three options: retake the exam almost immediately, receive a "projected" grade based on the first multiple-choice part without the essays taken into consideration or opt for cancellation and a refund. AP exams cost $83 to take.
"We resigned ourselves to the fact that we couldn't do that much about it," said Narby, who chose to retake the exam, which was administered within the same week as the announcement.
Williamsville Superintendent Howard Smith said that two letters also were sent to students and their families.
"From a senior's point of view, we were enraged because we thought we'd have to retake the calculus exam," said Sahoor Khan, 18.
"People were upset," said another student. "People were crying because they worked so hard."
The single apprehended student said during a telephone interview last week that he was charged with opening and manipulating the exams and sharing information.
He also claimed that, against AP test guidelines, students had been left alone with the exams without supervision.
Smith said that the school had correctly administered the test.
"One student's behavior was responsible for the invalidation" of the sections, he said.
"We followed all of the required procedures that the College Board sets up with respect to proctoring AP exams," he said.
He also said that students are expected to adhere to an "integrity oath" and that witnesses had acted according to guidelines on cheating.
"They did what they are required to do, they reported it," he said.
Smith said that he does not anticipate that the school will change any AP exam procedures next year, citing the wrongdoing of the alleged cheater as the sole source of controversy.
He would not comment on the punishment of the apprehended student.