By Rachel Heller
With federal and state budget cuts taking effect this school year, Advanced Placement resources have suffered, causing alarm for educators and students and contemplation on the role of AP exams.
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“When I start to talk with students over the next few weeks about who is actually taking the test…I know I’m going to be kind of shocked.”
Those are the words of Brad Wray, one of many teachers in Anne Arundel County who have recognized the consequences of recent funding cuts to Advanced Placement exams.
As a result of receiving less state and federal funding, Anne Arundel County Public Schools will no longer offset the costs of registering for AP tests for most students. The budget cuts surrounding testing represent a deficit of as much as $70,000 in waived test fees.
According to College Board’s website, in previous years, states were provided funding from the federal government to offset the cost of AP exams under the Advanced Placement Test Fee Program. The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed by the Obama administration in 2015, eliminated previous funding allocated for 2017 testing.
In a letter sent home to families of Anne Arundel county students in February, Superintendent Dr. George Arlotto explained the current funding situation, urging parents and guardians to discuss “quality versus quantity” when it comes to taking AP exams.
In an interview with The Pulse, Anne Arundel County Public Schools Chief of Communications Officer Bob Mosier shared his thoughts on the budget situation. In Mosier’s opinion, potential scores should be key in choosing which tests to take, saying that students shouldn’t take AP tests “just to take them.”
“We’ve tried to do as much as we could,” he said. “The Superintendent, after much discussion with instructional data, and testing, and school performance, and a whole bunch of other departments, decided that there wasn’t any place to move $70,000 from, and we would have to come up with another plan to address as best we could, given the diminished funding, AP exams.”
The county is providing a one-time $30 discount for families whose students take four or more AP exams. Students in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program (AVID) will receive a $25 waiver per exam for up to two exams. Those who qualify for free and reduced-price meals will continue to receive full exam fee waivers.
Mosier said that Arlotto hasn’t had any change in attitude towards the worth of AP exams. “The data will show and then the studies will show that even students who take an AP class and don’t get a 3 or above on the exam are better prepared for college than a student who doesn’t take an AP course because of the rigorous nature of that course.”
According to Colleen Adair, the school test coordinator for Arundel High School, the state and federal funding for AP exams has been dwindling for a while, but this is the first year that both aren’t available. “These are difficult financial times,” she said.
Adair believes the people who will be most affected are families. She said that no longer will kids in families take a large sum of exams and have the county help subsidize the costs; now, families just have the $30 discount to help.
Teachers are coming to terms with another category of individuals affected by funding cuts: students of low socioeconomic means. Not all students of a lower socioeconomic status are eligible for free and reduced lunch; unless they’re enrolled in AVID or are taking four or more exams, they must pay the full price.
“Inequality in terms of college acceptance rates and college attendance already exists, and this just exacerbates the problem that low socioeconomic status students aren’t able to have the same opportunities,” said Brad Wray, an AP Computer Science and AP Psychology teacher at Arundel High School.
Each year, students have reached out to Wray concerning their inability to pay for the AP exams in his classes. He anticipates the same pattern occurring this year.
“Having [students] take these tests has helped set a high expectation for them for the class,” Wray said. “If they can’t afford the test and they’re not taking the test, they don’t try as hard and they don’t meet the expectation.”
With the subject of AP tests and AP funding cuts at the forefront of the minds of educators, students, and families, the value of taking AP tests is beginning to come into question. According to a story published by Education Week in February, David Coleman, the president and CEO of the College Board, acknowledged that “most believe if you increase access [to AP tests] in a big way, you’re likely to compromise on quality.” Coleman went on to denounce the idea.
In the case of AP Psychology, Wray doesn’t believe that having more students take the exam leads to a plummet in scores.
“It is good to have people consider whether or not they would pass the test, and choose the ones they think they would do best on. But, with AP Psychology, I know that the data says that the more students that have taken [the AP exam], the scores have not gone down.”
According to College Board, in 2007, 116,128 students across the nation took the AP Psych exam and 18.8% earned a 5, the highest grade possible. In 2016, the number of students taking the exam more than doubled, with 293,350 students and 19.1% earning a 5.
AP Computer Science is a new course to Arundel, with 2016 being the first year it was offered to Arundel students. AP Psych’s pattern of an increase in scores also applies to Computer Science. College Board states that in 2007, 15,049 students took the course with 19.3% earning a 5, and in 2016, with the number of students more than tripling to 57,937, 20.8% earned a 5.
A small number of colleges, including St. John’s College in Maryland and Brown University, don’t offer credit for AP exams. For Harvard, credits are earned by scoring a 5 on a minimum of four AP tests.
“What incentive do the universities have to accept the credit if they’re losing money?” asked Phelps Prescott, an AP Human Geography, AP Macroeconomics, and AP Microeconomics teacher at Arundel. By taking college level classes in high school, students can earn credit that exempts them from having to pay for certain classes in college. While students benefit, colleges are at a loss.
The claim that the content taught in AP classes doesn’t match up with the college equivalent only furthers the argument against AP courses and tests.
“I’ve told many math people, ‘Don’t take BC,’ not to not make them take BC, but because the university’s going to teach you the way they want you to learn calculus,” said Prescott. “It’s like Econ, that I teach; a lot of universities won’t take it if you’re majoring in business. They’ll take it if you’re minoring in business, or they’ll take it as a general education credit, but they won’t take it if you’re majoring in business. They want you to learn it the way they want it taught.”
However, Prescott noted that in the end, it’s all about the money. “They need the revenue.”
Students are gaining awareness of the change in attitude towards AP tests as well.
Scott Howarth, Arundel senior and treasurer of the class of 2017, understands both sides when it comes to colleges not accepting AP credit. “This does hurt students looking to get college credit, but I do see why colleges do this. Often times, 3’s are compared to about 50-60% and these grades would not be considered passing in college,” he said.
Howarth is also president of CRASC, the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils. According to CRASC’s Facebook page, their mission is “to represent, serve, and lead the students of Anne Arundel County, to take positions on student-related issues, increase lobbying efforts locally and statewide, initiate positive change in our communities, and, ultimately, build quality student leaders.” While CRASC has yet to discuss the cuts, they frequently discuss the budget.
“I do see that the funding cuts are hurting low socioeconomic students that otherwise would be able to take these tests,” Howarth noted. “In the end, yes, it does hurt the students.”
Camilla Tyrell and Braxton Butler, both AVID students at Arundel, have also established opinions on AP testing and the funding cuts.
“I feel like it’s kind of unfair because these kids work so hard in the AP class in itself,” said Tyrell. “In the long run, it does save you money.”
Butler expressed the same sentiment, stating that he disagrees with the cuts because AP classes are based around the tests that students all prepare for.
According to AVID’s official website, the program strives to make college accessible for all students, regardless of their background. This includes those of low socioeconomic status. In fact, in 2014, 74% of AVID students nationwide were of low socioeconomic means.
“I find it interesting how our education system, which is so focused on standardized testing, gets to pick and choose which tests are and are not important to fund,” said Jennifer Bender, AVID teacher to Tyrell and Butler. “Unfortunately, because of these cuts, our system has once again inadvertently created a disadvantage to those who are already fighting an uphill battle.”
Bender noted that for her AVID students, it would be easy to suggest attempting to gain college credit in their senior year at the Anne Arundel Community College. However, students enrolled in AVID must take one AP course and sit for that exam in order to be eligible for an AVID chord upon graduation.
“The reality is, until the day comes when education is valued more than capitalism, we will continue to ‘level’ and ‘unlevel’ the playing field based on who is holding the rake.”