Removing barriers facing AP test takers

Removing barriers facing AP test takers

(N.D.) State sources will cover the cost of Advanced Placement exams in an effort to boost historically-dismal participation by high school students.

Students who participate in an AP exam in English, mathematics, science and computer science can take one test for free, Kirsten Baesler, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced Monday. Low-income students will be able to take four AP exams free of charge.

“Oftentimes, the cost of the exam has been a significant barrier,” Baesler said in a statement. “By providing assistance to our students in paying for the cost of that exam, we’re hoping that more students will challenge that exam, more students will take Advanced Placement courses in those subject areas, and earn college credit before they leave high school.”

Students who pass AP courses are often able to earn college credits by scoring at least a three out of five on the final exam, which can result in the ability to skip certain introductory classes and ultimately save money in tuition costs. Students who pass two AP exams can save an average of $1,779 at a public college and $6,000 at a private school, according to a 2013 College Board report.

Despite the benefits of participating in AP courses, even many high-achieving students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to take AP courses, or advanced math or science courses, according to a report released by The Education Trust in 2014. Compared to their high-achieving white or more advantaged peers, high-achieving students of color or from low-socioeconomic backgrounds are twice as likely not to take college admissions tests.

In North Dakota, students overwhelmingly avoid taking the AP exams, according to The College Board, which creates and distributes the tests. The state ranked last in the country for participation at only 8 percent – the national average is nearly 22 percent.

Last year, the Legislature approved close to $1.3 million to expand AP coursework opportunities for all students by absorbing all or a portion of the cost, which can add up to $90 for each test. Students from low-income families can take up to four exams at no cost to the student, and other students can take one exam for free and three additional tests for half the cost.

The decision to boost participation in AP classes aligns with Baesler’s “Leveraging the Senior Year” initiative, which seeks to better prepare high school seniors for college or a technical career by pushing them toward more intense instruction.

Currently, more than 40 percent of first-year college students in the state’s universities require remedial coursework in math or English, likely due to what school officials have deemed the “senior slide” – a tradition in which students take a lighter course load their final year of high school.

If students push themselves in that last year they can shorten the time it takes to graduate from college, reduce any accumulation of student debt and get into the workforce faster, Baesler said in announcing the initiative.

A number of states have incentivized students to take AP courses and schools to offer more of them. In California, a bill was introduced to create a grant program adding AP course options in science, technology, engineering and math in underserved schools in order to increase participation by low-income and minority students.

Although gaps remain in the percentage of African and Native American students who participate in the exams, more than 1.4 million public school students took AP exams last year – a nearly 4 percent increase from the year prior, according to The College Board.

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