AP gets more expensive… for some

The College Board offers (in part because the government gives them money) fee waivers on the AP Tests.   But apparently the scope of fee waivers is getting cut due to cuts in federal funding.  While some states are picking up the tab (go federalism), others, like California, are not.  Poor kids are feeling the pinch.

But we poor kids have always felt the pinch.  Whether it’s skipping dances because you can’t afford to go, or running an intertube with five patches on it… life as a poor high school kid is rough.  But I think this little vignette from the LA Times story really says it all:

But at schools like El Rancho that do not receive those state funds, low-income students must foot the entire bill.

In May, Rocio, a senior, plans on taking the English literature, physics, statistics and government AP exams. And although she’s not taking the AP courses in Spanish and French, she figured she’d take those tests as well, possibly receiving college credit and freeing up time next year for courses geared toward her goal of becoming a doctor.

The fees, however, have left her and her mother looking for ways to come up with the extra money.

“It is a lot of money, especially since it was unexpected,” she said. “But I talked with my mom and she said that we’ll find a way — she knows how important it is to me.”

You find the money for the important things, even if it means not going with your friends on a trip or not getting your drivers’ license.

But are the AP tests really that important?  For my part, I think the tests themselves are a little overrated.  The value of AP, I think, is in taking the classes which are (because of the tests, of course) actually taught to something like a real standard.  But I suppose if you’re heading off to a big state school with impacted classes, avoiding having to take Freshman Composition could be the difference between graduating in 5 years or 6… which could be a substantial chunk of change.

Comments

  1. My kids all started college with sophomore status, because of their APs. First, they could use them to cover a distribution requirement, they could bypass the intro course and take the next one and they could take additional majors/minors or graduate early. Advanced standing, compared to their classmates in their major, meant that their chances of getting the classes and schedule they wanted were better.

    • The CLEP tests provide another option. I took AP Calc way back when but didn’t bother with the AP test because I was planning on retaking calculus at university anyhow. But thanks to CLEP tests, I was able to start university with sophomore status, which, as momof4 noted, has advantages with regards to scheduling at the very least.

      Don’t know what the AP tests run, but CLEP tests are currently $77 a crack.

    • My son started Oberlin with 12 expensive credits knocked off his requirements because of his AP tests. Michael, you need to spend some time in the real world!

  2. AP exams are generally taken by college bound kids.

    There is a choice:

    You could plan on paying for a higher amount for a college class and earn credits (after HS graduation) … or you could pay a lesser amount amount to take the AP exam and get college credits that are hopefully accepted (whie in HS).

    You have to pay to get recognized with the credits one way or another – even if you are poor. Even middle income folks feel a pinch to afford college. I’m not feeling the sympathy, however, kudos to those kids who recognize the value of AP or other educational options, plan ahead for college, push themselves to learn the material, take the exams, and pass.

    AP exams are great for addressing general requirements. However, often there may be alternatives that are even lower cost. In HS, I was able to take university classes that were fully covered by the state (books extra if you want to keep at end of class) with enough credits to start as a sophomore. My kids are already planning to knock out two years of college by doing the same.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:


      My kids are already planning to knock out two years of college by doing the same.

      Which is great if you see college as something to get “knocked out.”

      That suggests to me, though, that it’s being viewed just as a credential, and not as a learning experience.

      Which is a pity.

      • I am assuming that MN Mom is referring to MN’s PSEO program, which offers an outstanding opportunity. My son’s experience with the program was an excellent learning opportunity in every way; not “just a credential.” He was able to begin his college German classes at the honors junior level. I do not think that your dismissive attitude to the program is warranted. Although too many kids need remediation after HS graduation, there are also many who are ready for real college-level work while still in HS and PSEO is wonderful for them. I’d love to see it spread to other states.

      • At least in the sciences, the upper-level classes are where the rubber meets the road; the intros and other basics are just the scaffolding for getting there.  Physics and chemistry are physics and chemistry everywhere.  The teaching can be better or worse, but in my experience not much is going to be different before you hit course numbers above 300.

      • Cranberry says:

        Not everyone can afford the “full college experience.” With recent stories about senior citizens still paying off their student loans, most students should take a rational approach to college costs.

        • Michael E. Lopez says:

          Just because not everyone can afford “the full college experience” doesn’t mean it’s not still better than the “half college experience.”

          But really, I never said college was for everyone; I never even said that college was preferable to other life choices — which it often isn’t.

          All I said that it was a pity to be thinking of college as something to be gotten through, the more quickly the better. To have that attitude is to see it as something you have to do, rather than get to do. And I suspect that most people who see college as a set of tasks to be gotten through rather than enjoyed actually would be better off doing something else with those years anyway.

          …were it not for the incredibly perverse college-centric credentialing system we seem to have in place in our society.

          Which is my point.

          • Cranberry says:

            If the cost of college hadn’t risen so drastically over decades, I could agree. It’s the sentimental attachment to the 4 year college degree which has allowed costs to rise so dramatically, though. The modern equivalent of The Grand Tour of Europe.

            As student loans aren’t dischargeable in bankruptcy, caveat emptor.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Which is why we really should be doing something about our “incredibly perverse college-centric credentialing system.”

      • No, it means that the student can take more specialized courses — which at least in my kids’ case is very appealing — and skip the “101” level. That’s different from thinking of college as something to be “gotten through.”

        • We don’t agree often, but you’re right on this issue. Bypassing large freshman lecture classes, mostly to fill distribution requirements, is nothing but good. Even my kids friends who chose not to bypass 101 classes intheir major – mostly STEM – often opted for an honors version of those classes. It’s expanding opportunities, not restricting them.

        • Michael E. Lopez says:

          But then you’re not really “knocking out” any years of college — you’re just getting more and better education while you’re there.

          Which is great, right?

      • Unfortunately, today, college is a credential. However, with all of the complaints about the college costs, any actions such as the MN PSEO program or AP exams should be considered.

        I agree that college not for everyone, but usually those kids are not taking AP classes where the costs are rising …. which was the point ot the article.

        I actually am a strong proponent of college bound kids having a gap year. I think that there is alot that they learn outside the classroom, and they become much more focused about what they want when they return for college.

  3. Engineer-Poet,

    I’d agree, general chem I/II, Biology (general, plant, animal), Physics (general I/II, or Engineering Physics) were all lower division courses when I attended college in the early 80’s. Schools are starting to get a lot more selective on what they’ll give credit for on AP exams (score wise), where a score of three used to cut it, many schools are only awarding credit for scores of 4 and 5 anymore.

    • In my experience, 5’s are not overly difficult to get.  Then again, it’s been a while; if the AP’s have been dumbed down like everything else, it’s probably even easier.

  4. For my part, I think the tests themselves are a little overrated. The value of AP, I think, is in taking the classes which are (because of the tests, of course) actually taught to something like a real standard.

    You’re exactly wrong. Research has shown no predictive value in taking the courses, no improved college performance. AP test scores, on the other hand, have high predictive value.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      Well it wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong, but I should point out that I didn’t say jack diddly squat about “predictive value.” I was talking about the actual value.

      To the student.

      • The “actual” value would be something that meant the student was better prepared for college. Since taking AP courses has zero measurable impact on preparation level, and high AP test scores has a high measurable impact on preparation level, students presumably know that actual value is the same as predictive value.

        Would that you were able to figure out the same.

      • Michael E. Lopez says:

        (A)ctual value is the same as predictive value.

        So let me get this straight — you’re maintaining that a student who gets a 5 on an AP test is substantially better prepared for college after taking the test than he was three hours prior when he sat down to take it?

        Seriously?

        • (psst… Troll Tuesday was two days ago.)

          Taking the class measures attendance, passing the exam measures competence.  It’s no wonder that the exam results show more predictive value than the particular courses taken (or not taken) to prepare for it.

        • Michael E. Lopez says:

          Oh for Pete’s sake, you too?

          For the last time… I am not talking about measurement.

          What I said originally was that I thought the tests were a little overrated, and that the actual value of an AP course (to the student taking it) is in the fact that it’s a more rigorous course.

          If you and Cal think the courses are really useless, then we shouldn’t bother having students take them at all. Just give them the tests in September and skip the course.

          That wouldn’t work, of course… because even if the courses don’t have predictive value (which I am fully willing to concede and never, ever denied) it’s still IN THE AP COURSES that all the students who get 4’s and 5’s learn the material in the first place.

          The tests merely measure that effect. They have predictive power.

          Which is why I said that the actual (not predictive) value is in the course.

          Can I be any clearer?

          • f you and Cal think the courses are really useless, then we shouldn’t bother having students take them at all. Just give them the tests in September and skip the course.

            If you know the material, yes, that’s true.

            If you are capable of learning the material, then the class gives you the knowledge to pass the test–and thus, the class is providing value. If you didn’t know the material and the class helped you pass the test, then of course, the class was valuable.

            But are you seriously that ignorant of the push to make unqualified kids take AP classes, to pretend like they are getting a valuable education, when they are incapable of understanding the material?

            If you are, then read up. IF you aren’t, then your comment was stupid.

          • Some students do take the exam without taking the course, outside of the Hispanic students who take the Spanish exam. My daughter took the AP English composition exam cold – no class, no preparation – and got a 4. Because she had to have another year of English, she took the class – but not the exam – the following year. She was unable to schedule AP geography because of a conflict with another AP class, so she borrowed the book from the teacher and studied on her own – and also had a 4 on that exam.

          • Michael E. Lopez says:

            Cal Saith:

            If you are capable of learning the material, then the class gives you the knowledge to pass the test–and thus, the class is providing value. If you didn’t know the material and the class helped you pass the test, then of course, the class was valuable.

            Yes, knowledge is valuable. That’s my point. One more step and we’re in perfect agreement: just change that last sentence to “… the class helped you become the sort of person who can pass the test…”. That’s all I meant by the real value of the AP program being in the classes. The tests don’t teach you anything; they’re just measurements.

            And for the record, I’m on your side in finding the College Board’s open access fetish both distasteful and counterproductive. AP classes, like college, aren’t necessarily for everyone. I’m not 100% convinced that it’s all about cognitive ability at the AP/high school level; I think it’s more likely a matter of preparation and skill sets (which is almost certainly correlated strongly with cognitive ability anyway). But we agree there, too.

  5. As a science person, I encourage students to test out of classes outside their major (test out of English if you’re in sciences, test out of biology if you’re in history, etc), but make sure to take most of the sequence in your major at your school. Use the time that you free up to work if you need to, take extra classes in your major if it would help to have a focus area, add a minor, or do something that you wouldn’t have time for otherwise (band, a rec sport, etc, if you can afford it). For me, skipping freshman comp made it easier to do marching band my first year (fun!), but I was able to put most of those 6 ‘free’ credit hours to good use by having more hours free my senior year, when I was doing a research project in a lab.

  6. I would be willing to reimburse a poor student who receives a score of 4 or 5 the cost of registering for the exam (with the exception of the AP Spanish test for a native Spanish speaker). I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there who would be willing to do the same.

    • That’s a much better idea than subsidizing all AP tests, including those taken by kids who are highly unlikely to get above a 2. That @#$% Jay Mathews rating is pushing kids grossly unprepared for HS work into “AP” classes and taking the test. A DC suburban AP English teacher often comments in the Wa Po about the kids reading at 5th-grade level who are dumped into his class – and can’t be flunked – because the county requires all kids to take at least one AP class – for the rankings. Private funding can help those kids who deserve it without pretending that all kids deserve it.

      • Michael E. Lopez says:

        I sometimes wonder if the AP push is really a deliberate move on the part of its proponents to prevent the students at the top of the academic heap from getting too far ahead and thus “managing” the so-called achievement gaps.

        But that’s only in my more cynical moments.

        • I also have my cynical moments; Let No Child Get Ahead. However, the ed world, and people like Jay Mathews (Challenge Index) who write about it, seem oblivious to the difference between correlation and causation. The fact that it was discovered, in the 80s, that kids who took algebra I in 8th grade (honors only), took Latin, did debate, took the most challenging math and science, took AP classes etc did better on a variety of measures was immediately interpreted as a result of such classes. The fact that only the most able, prepared and motivated kids took these classes, and the fact that they were inherently different from those who did not, was completely ignored. Sigh

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            But don’t we do that more generally in education? We say people who finish high school make more money than those who don’t. We say people who finish college make more money than those who don’t.

            We then say that the high school or the college is responsible for all that extra money–so they should get a big chunk of it up front.

      • A DC suburban AP English teacher often comments in the Wa Po about the kids reading at 5th-grade level who are dumped into his class – and can’t be flunked – because the county requires all kids to take at least one AP class – for the rankings.

        It would be nice if the College Boards required a minimum testing rate and test-pass rate (4 or 5) to maintain AP certification.  It would force school administrators to stop doing that sort of thing, because they wouldn’t be able to call their classes AP any more.

        • This is also in response to Roger’s last comment; yes, we do and it’s the same issue. I am betting that the “college degree bonus” is evaporating, because it was based on the fact most kids who went to/graduated from college in the era of freshman weeder classes were inherently different from those who didn’t. Now, as kids are graduating without having acquired the kind of knowledge and skills that well-paying college-grad jobs demand (lots of very undemanding majors) and who are working in jobs where a college degree is unnecessary, this may not be happening AND these kids have lots of debt.

          E-Poet; I’d love to see it. In the real world, an “AP” class where few-to-no kids get a 3 or better and many get 1s, is NOT an AP class in any meaningful definition of the word. I’m renegade enough to love the prerequisites, which my kids’ old HS still has: successful completion of honors US history before AP US, honors sciences before AP sciences. In that model, ALL of the AP students are fully prepared to be successful in the AP class and on the AP test. After all, real honors classes are the most demanding HS classs but the APs are supposed to be college level.

  7. Sean Mays says:

    I took a browse through the College Board site and looked at the score distributions Not comprehensive analysis, but I found 6 AP’s with MODAL scores of 1: Bio, Calc AB, Chemistry, Human Geography, Spanish Lang (for non-native) and World History. Statistics was close too.

    Under your scheme CW, we’d only be reimbursing about 35% of the Bio takers and ~26% of World History. I wonder what the impact would be?