Loss of federal program could more than triple AP exam fee for some students

February 8, 2017
sbac, smarter balanced, CAASPP, common core

Some low-income students in California could face a steep fee increase for Advanced Placement exams this spring following the elimination of a federal subsidy.

The cost for each AP exam for these students could climb from $5 or $15 to $53 because of a provision in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act that eliminated the Advanced Placement Test Fee Program.

Last year, the national program provided $28 million to states to help subsidize the cost of AP exams for low-income students.

Last spring, about 133,800 California students who took at least one AP exam received a fee reduction, according to the College Board, which publishes the exams.

“It’s disappointing to see the disappearance of this dedicated funding stream,” said Scott Hill, vice president for the Western Regional Office of the College Board.

States can still use some of  a federal block grant, Title IV Part A, to cover the AP exam fees for low-income students, but it’s not a requirement. School districts can also use their Title I funds, the federal government’s primary source of money for schools with high numbers of low-income students. But the exam fees would have to compete with other Title I funding priorities.

So far, California has not set aside dedicated funds for AP exam subsidies. March 24 is the deadline for schools to order AP exams.

“The uncertainty is hurting a lot of students and a lot of schools,” Hill said.

The full price for each AP exam remains unchanged at $93. Low-income students are still eligible for a $40 waiver from the College Board and a waiver of processing fees to bring the per exam cost down to $53.

“It’s disappointing to see the disappearance of this dedicated funding stream,” said Scott Hill, vice president for the Western Regional Office of the College Board.

At least two dozen California districts, including Oakland Unified, San Jose Unified and Long Beach Unified, have vowed to cover the entire or most of the cost for AP exams for all test-takers, not just low-income students. Many of these districts also cover fees for SAT exams as part of an effort to prepare more students for college.

Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, has decided to cover the loss of the federal subsidy, so the district’s low-income students would still pay just $5 per exam, said Arzie Galvez, director of advanced learning options for the division of instruction.

These districts have used a combination of federal and state grants, including the California College Readiness Block Grant, a $200 million program created to help districts increase the number of college-ready students.

Hill said the College Board is working with other districts across the state to determine what funding is available to cover AP exam costs.

Still, most districts in California haven’t yet committed to allocating the extra money to offset the AP exam fee increase for low-income students, leaving some educators worried that many students might skip out on the tests.

Many students take more than one AP exam each year, so even if they’re paying $53 per test, the money quickly adds up, counselors have said.

Meanwhile, Cassandra Sosa, a junior at Millikan High in Long Beach Unified, said having her district cover all her AP exam fees means she can focus on studying for her two tests later this spring instead of worrying about saving money to pay the fees.

“The exams are tough enough as it is,” she said. “Now I can save more for college.”

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