Spending Big Bucks On AP Exams

Can the county justify paying for students' tests?

Fauquier County shelled out $167,000 on AP tests last year. However, only 46 percent of AP students received a passing score.

Since the county started paying for the tests back in 2003-2004, there has never been more than a 49 percent pass rate across the county, making some question if paying for these tests is really the best use of county funds. Each AP tests costs $85. Students who have paid for dual enrollment automatically receive college credit for passing the class, even if they don’t pass the AP test. However, they are still required to take the AP exam to receive designation on their college transcript.

One junior, who is currently enrolled in an AP history class, said there is no incentive to do well on the test.

“I’m probably going to fail the AP test, but it doesn’t matter because it’s a dual enrollment class,” the junior said.

He’s not alone. Last year, 62 percent of students who took the AP U.S. History test failed it. Fauquier County Public Schools require every student who takes an AP class to sit for the test in order to receive a weighted grade. As a result, one senior said she has watched students, “fill in their name and take a nap during the test.”

Senior Liam Whitted said he has noticed the same thing.

“Half of my AP classes used the testing paper to blot out drool while they napped,” Whitted said.

Whitted believes that paying for the tests for the students who sleep is a waste of money. Prashant Shrestha, assistant superintendent for business and planning, disagrees. He thinks the county should continue to pay for the tests.

“Our job is to build students up, not down,” Shrestha said. “We will not stop teaching if a student falls asleep. Our strategy is not centered around punishing students if they make a bad decision. Our mission is to offer the opportunities and the support needed to be successful, not to pull students down at every opportunity.”

Major Warner, associate superintendent for instruction, also thinks the county should continue to pay for these tests.

“The ability to provide financial support for all students creates access for all students,” Warner explained, “creating the type of educational equity that is beneficial for all learners.”

Michael Maddox, AP Government teacher, said he appreciates the county paying for AP tests; however, he thinks scores would improve if students were required to earn a passing score on the AP test in order to receive the weighted grade.

“This would provide incentive to take the test seriously,” Maddox said.

AP World History teacher Michelle Cooper thinks the county needs to reevaluate its goals regarding AP classes.

“I do not think the county paying for the AP tests is a waste, but there needs to be a clear definition of what the county expects,” Cooper said. “Do they want more students to pass the AP test or do they want more students to pay for the Dual Enrollment credit? This is a real issue.”

Math teacher Sean Fenner said a county in upstate New York saw a significant increase in test scores when it made students pay for the test up front, but reimbursed test takers who scored a three or higher.

“I think anything that makes students take the test more seriously is worth trying,” Publications Adviser Shelly Norden said. “Paying $85 for students to take a nap is a waste.”

Fairfax County allows students to opt out of taking AP tests. Kimberly Overholt, who teaches AP language, would like for students to have that choice here.

“I believe that we should provide students with equal opportunity and with the ability to make decisions,” Overholt said. “If a student doesn’t want to take the AP test, than they should be able to opt out. That way, the money can be spent on other things. I’m a big fan of student choice.”

Cooper thinks opting out should not be an option. “If students were allowed to opt-out, what would the point be in taking the AP class?” Cooper questioned. “Not all universities accept DE credit, especially out-of-state and or private. College Board is an internationally recognized standard. Universities trust that if you pass the College Board test, than the students fully learned the content.”