The conversation about standardized testing often comes to the conclusion that students are taking too many tests. Students will emphatically agree with you, as those who like standardized tests usually only like them because they know who do take them well and also understand that they don’t really show a student’s actual skills. Today, high school students who want to go to college are encourage to take AP classes or other similarly rigorous classes. These classes have large tests culminating at the end of one year, some of which can take more than 4 hours. These tests are taken in addition to any district or state tests that are required and tests needed for entry into college (the SAT or the ACT).
The College Board released a report comparing the year 2003 to 2013. It found that there was a 14.3 point increase of public high school graduates who took an AP exam while in high school (only 18.9 percent took one in the class of 2003 while 33.2 percent of the class 2013 took one). It also found there was an increase in the amount of students who were minority or low income who were taking AP tests. These increases mean that more students are taking more challenging classes and trying to be more ‘college ready’, however it also means students are taking more tests.
I was in one of the largest high schools in the Wake County Public School System and I saw first hand how AP and other similar programs (I had more experience with IB tests, although I have taken 3 AP tests) effects students. There were a couple main things that I noticed:
- AP Tests (and even more so IB tests) are expensive to take
- They require transportation that is, to my knowledge, not directly provided by the schools
- Students now feel like they have to take even more tests to be competitive
Wake County started paying for students testing during the 2014-2015 school year, which was a huge benefit for my family. Between my brother and I, we were going to take 3 AP tests (these cost $92 each) and 6 IB tests (these cost $110 each). That adds up to a grand total of $936 worth of testing, which doesn’t include taking the SAT. However, Wake County had funding which meant my brother and I, who wouldn’t qualify for a reduction in cost (the College Board will deduct $30 off an AP exam for low income families) but also couldn’t afford almost $1000 in testing, were able to take the tests for our classes.
This was a huge deal when it happened at school, and many of the teachers were very happy about it. This meant that there was no excuse for a student who’s in the AP class to not take the test. The students in these classes wanted to not have to take the final exam if they took the AP exam. Many of my peers argued that they didn’t feel it was necessary to have two different cumulative exams on the same material in a matter of weeks. Most teachers agreed with the students and decided that we were already going to be taking a 3-4 hour long test on the material, why create more work for themselves and make us take another test on the exact same material sometimes as little as two weeks after the first test. However, a few of my teachers didn’t like this. I remember overhearing one teacher saying that we were too entitled and we should stop complaining and take the extra test.
A few months before the school year ended, we got a notice saying that if a student was in an AP or an IB class and took the exam in May, the student wouldn’t have to take a final. Some teachers reacted to this positively and complied completely. Some offered a traditional final so a student could opt to take it if they wanted to raise their grade. Some teachers didn’t want to let students off the hook and gave large projects after the AP test and it functioned as a final in all ways except for the fact that it wasn’t called a final. I really to this day don’t understand those teacher’s viewpoint. Why create more work for students who’ve worked all year and then taken a large, stressful exam?
The issue of transportation was not talked about a lot at my school. Pretty much all the students who I knew either had a car or had a friend who had a car. We took our AP exams at a local church that had a variety of very large rooms that were empty during the school day and let us use that space. The church was only around 2 miles away, so while the tests were administered off-site, it wouldn’t have been an unreasonable walk. Since almost everyone at my school who was taking an AP test was also taking the corresponding class, they had a group of classmates who would also need transportation. We were encouraged to carpool, so, for my school, these tests were fairly accessible in this way.
The interesting aspect of these tests is that they now seem required to get into many colleges. You need to have taken and excelled at college level classes before you attend college. This could be viewed as a negative because some students who live in districts where AP tests aren’t paid for may have some difficult decisions to make. However, I think AP exams are actually helping students as far as college goes. Not in terms of ‘college readiness’ but more in terms of cost and freedom.
I came to Carolina with 29 credit hours completed. I had a friend with 30 and another friend with 33. This means that I have a ton of freedom as far as which classes I want to take. If I wanted to, I could easily graduate a year early. I have the opportunity to study abroad if I want. I have a lot more flexibility with doing more than one major or minor. AP classes may be a fair amount of stress and can be expensive, they are less stressful and much less expensive in college.
I took 3 AP exams and 6 IB exams, which totals to $936. That got me what would be almost a full years worth of credits, which, as an instate student, would have cost me $24,898. If you do well on these tests, they can save you an incredible amount of money and can make you a lot more likely to be able to be more flexible with your studies in college.