April 2, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 14

News

Fiscal cliff forces low-income students to pay more for Advanced Placement exams

By Rosette Royale , Assistant Editor

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Low-income students will have to pay more for Advanced Placement (AP) exams, due to the federal budget cuts known as sequestration, while the price for others remains the same.

The current fee to take an AP exam is $89, but since 1999, low-income students have paid less. In 2013, each exam cost $10 for low-income students. Between 1999 and 2012, an exam cost $5.

Beginning in May, low-income students who take AP exams will pay $18 per exam, the second fee hike in two years.

Over the past five years, the number of reduced-fee AP exams taken in Washington state has almost doubled. In 2009, 6,842 reduced-fee AP exams were taken, representing 12 percent of AP exams that year. In 2013, 13,409 reduced-fee AP exams were taken, representing almost 18 percent of exams last year.

Barbara Dittrich, Advanced Placement program supervisor for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the program to provide grants to states to support AP tests for low-income students is funded through the Department of Education. Due to sequestration cuts, funding levels for the program decreased, requiring subsidized AP exam fees to increase.

Students who are enrolled in or eligible to participate in federal free or reduced lunch programs can request the reduced exam fee. Students from families with incomes at or below

185 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible. In Washington, this is approximately $43,600 for a family of four.

The AP program provides college preparatory education in high schools nationwide. While a student does not have to be enrolled in an AP class to take the corresponding exam, the classes prepare students for the exam. There are tests for 34 subjects, including arts, English, history and social sciences, mathematics and computer science and some world languages and cultures. The tests are administered by The College Board, a nonprofit association that administers scholastic aptitude tests, including the SAT.

Students who plan to take an AP exam, whether or not they request a reduced fee, must contact their school’s exam coordinator by April 5.

Some schools require payment when students sign up for the exam, while others collect fees when tests are administered in May, Dittrich said.

Paying for an exam this spring could save college-bound students money later, said Dittrich.

If a student scores within a certain range on an AP exam, two- and four-year public state colleges and universities will grant students college credit in that subject. A student who enters a college or university with credit hours won’t have to pay to take introductory-level college classes in that subject, she said.

Dittrich said the reason for the increase in reduced-fee exams is likely two-fold. First, the recession reduced incomes for many families, causing more students to seek financial assistance.

“I think the other reason is that the number of schools offering AP exams has increased,” she said.

Dittrich said that almost every school in the state offers at least one AP course.

Exams are usually taken by students in the eleventh and twelfth grade, but ninth and tenth-graders can also take them.

All exams are administered in English, except those in world languages, which include Chinese, French, German, Spanish and Latin.

The reduced fee of $18 can also be used by low-income students who take exams in two other college preparatory programs: the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is offered in fewer than 20 schools in the state, and the Capstone Program,  a college prep program currently available in only one school in Spokane but soon to expand to more schools statewide.

College credit is also given to students who score at specific levels for IB or Capstone exams.

Dittrich said that because each exam has a written component, it cannot be graded by computer. The cost of the exam is tied to paying teachers and professors to grade students’ work.

While the reduced price has increased again this year, Dittrich said factors other than cost tend to stop students from taking the exam.

“The biggest barrier isn’t that they don’t know about the program, but the school may not have the classes to help them prepare,” Dittrich said.

To find out more about the reduced fee programs, visit http://bit.ly/1hzwBT5 then ,scroll down the page.

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