Thousands of high-school students from low-income families may not be able to pay for their college-level course exams this spring because of a fee increase.
For nearly two decades, a grant from the federal government has helped thousands of high-school students from low-income families cover the cost of the exams associated with Advanced Placement (AP) and other college-level courses. Last year, for example, low-income students paid $15 per AP exam. The full fee was $93.
But that federal grant ended late last year when Congress passed a new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. And state officials only discovered that fact in the last few months, after spending the fall combing through the 1,000-page law.
While Congress plans to reinstate that support in a different way, that won’t happen until the 2017-18 school year at the earliest.
Low-income students still will get some assistance this school year from the state as well as from the nonprofit College Board, which administers AP exams. But students may have to pay $53 per AP exam this spring rather than $15. Students in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program may have to pay $116 for exams and a $169 registration fee.
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Because the average student in AP and IB classes takes more than one exam, the fees can add up to hundreds of dollars, and AP and IB coordinators worry that some students won’t be able to take the tests this spring.
The state’s poorest and brightest students are going to be the ones most affected, said David Quinn, the IB coordinator at Edmonds-Woodway High School.
State lawmakers still could step in, and so could local school districts — and some have already pledged to do so, including Highline, which plans to use a different grant to cover students’ fees.
In Seattle, district officials are trying to figure out the number of low-income students who plan to take the exams, but they won’t have the final number until January, when exam registration begins, spokesman Luke Duecy said.
The state paid a portion of the fees for 14,726 AP and IB exams in 2016, for a total of $623,650, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). For AP tests, that accounted for about 16 percent of the total number of tests students took across the state
Quinn, the Edmonds-Woodway IB coordinator, called the lack of funding “financially absurd.” A student who can’t afford to pay for exams will have to retake the class in college, which will cost thousands more, he said. According to the College Board, low-income students who earned college credit by passing AP exams in 2016 saved a combined $321 million.
If he passes his IB exams this spring, Rainier Beach High senior Christian Cisneros will earn enough credits that he won’t have to pay for several of his college classes. He plans to go to South Seattle College next year to earn an associate degree, and then transfer to a university. But he and his classmates are worried about the test fees, he said.
“I feel like low-income students, and not just low-income students but low-income communities, need more support,” said Cisneros, 17. “They’re thinking of taking (funds) away, when you should do the opposite.”
Barb Dittrich, program supervisor for Advanced Placement at OSPI, said that when she was a teacher, all students had to pay a hefty fee regardless of their families’ income. She recalled reaching into her own pocket to pay for students she knew would pass. Since the test fees were reduced, she said, more students have taken, and passed, the tests.
For Quinn, it’s especially hard to think about the students who were recruited into the programs and now might not be able to afford the tests.
“I’ve had students get full rides (scholarships to college) across the United States who two years ago had been regular students at Edmonds-Woodway,” he said. “I told them, ‘We have this program that can change your whole life.’ And it did.”