A Project for Better Journalism chapter

94 dollars for a test seems 94 percent crazy

In previous years, Prince George’s County Public Schools have paid for the Advanced Placement (AP)  exams for all students. Although this relieved AP students of the financial burden of $94 per exam, the decision to stop funding the exams came after the county stripped $6.5 million from Head Start program grant. PGCPS said the decision to stop funding exams was solely due to a budget decision.

This left students having to pay hundreds of dollars for their “final” and most important task of their AP classes.

The decision the school board came up with was to pay for the tests of students enrolled in the  Free and Reduced Meals (FARM) program, only if they have a C-average. However, for non-FARM students have to pay the price for every exam leading up to four exams where the county would then cover the cost.

Free and reduced-price meals are available to students based on household size and income. If income falls below the amount listed below for household size, then students living within the household may qualify for free or reduced-price meals. For example, a household of four needs an income of below $44,955 to qualify. Students are automatically eligible for free meals if the family receives assistance under the Food Supplement Program or Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) benefits.

“Just because you’re a little bit over the income, you can’t qualify for FARMS,” said junior Teena Varughese. “There are many people who make over the income, but use the money for other purposes such as bills and health reasons.”

Having to pay for the tests could lead to an increasing amount of students not taking the class solely because they cannot afford to pay for the test.

While the county does offer to pay for non-FARM students if they are taking more than four AP exams, these students are still responsible for paying for the first three.  That means AP students who do not qualify for FARM are responsible for paying $282 before the County steps in to help.

And let’s be honest.  How many students are really taking more than three AP courses at a time? According to a Los Angeles Times article by education experts, a student applying to Ivy League schools, like Stanford, and public universities like UCLA and UC Berkeley, take about eight AP classes throughout their entire high school careers.

Say you start taking AP classes in 10th grade; that’s three school years to divide your classes up by that total number. You’ll end up taking maybe three AP classes for two years and two AP classes for one year. Either way the “We’ll pay for your exams after you pay for the first three” rule from the County doesn’t apply to you. Over the course of the three years, you take those 8 AP classes  you will have paid about $752.

While some teachers give other assignments and work if students decide not to take the test, this could put students in an uncomfortable situation. Some teachers have stated that if students decide not to take the AP test, they must write a letter stating why, forcing students to reveal that they not have had the funds to do so.

There are several advantages to taking AP courses and if possible, every student should try one in their high school career.  Students shouldn’t, however, be subjected to such costly exams.

AP is a program run by College Board that allows students to take courses in high school that could be counted as college credit, given a passing score on the AP exam, and/or qualifies students for more advanced classes in college. There are about 15 AP classes offered at Parkdale but 22 classes are offered by PGCPS.