Advanced Placement Test Fees to Rise for Low-Income Students

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WNYC's Beth Fertig

Low-income students will have to pay 50 percent more in fees to take the Advanced Placement exams this spring.

The city alerted principals this week, following an announcement by the College Board, which sponsors the exams, that federal financing to subsidize Advanced Placement exams was cut to $26.95 million from $43 million. The money is allocated to states to help financially needy students take the college-level exams at the completion of Advanced Placement courses.

The loss in financing means that the A.P. exam fee for low-income students will increase to $15 from $10 for up to three exams per student (without subsidies, A.P. exams cost $87 each). The city said the cost of any additional A.P. exams -- beyond the first three -- will increase to $53 from $10 per exam.

The College Board said it is contributing more of its own money than usual this year to prevent those fees from rising even higher. The city's Education Department told principals in its weekly e-mail that it is now exploring options to make up more of the federal financing cut.

"If funding is identified, you will be notified in a future Principals' Weekly," the statement read.

During the 2010-11 academic school year, 15,101 public school students used fee waivers, which represents 51 percent of the public school students in the city who take A.P. exams. Students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals are entitled to the fee waivers.

The higher costs come at a time when high school principals are feeling pressure to raise their standards and get more students ready for college. Advanced Placement courses are considered one way to help students prepare for the rigors of college.

"I believe this cost will be a significant burden to the students and that the city and state should intervene to support high achieving low-income students," said Randy J. Asher, principal of
Brooklyn Technical High School, where most students already take A.P. exams. More than 64 percent of the school's 5,140 students qualified for free or reduced price lunch last year, an increase over previous years.

At Life Sciences Secondary School in Manhattan, where 80 percent of students qualified for lower priced meals last year, the principal, Genevieve Stanislaus, said the old $10 fee "was already a burden."

Last year, she said, 35 of her 40 students who took A.P. exams were eligible for the lower fees. Increasing the price, she said, "will definitely have a negative impact on those students who would otherwise embrace taking the course and the exam."

"Our students are in competition with other high school students city-wide as well state-wide," Ms. Stanislaus said. "Therefore, they must be provided with the same opportunities as their peers who can afford the cost of the exam."

According to the College Board, Georgia, New Mexico, Texas and the District of Columbia will be supplementing the federal and College Board subsidies with their own state or local funds, to further reduce the A.P. exam fees for low-income students in their jurisdictions.

The Board is encouraging other states, districts and communities to explore similar options.