MCPS’ changes regarding AP testing and dual enrollment expands accessibility
$102. That’s enough money to choose between buying 51 sodas at the school vending machine, 639 sticks of Extra Peppermint gum, or the chance to take one AP exam at Blair. Luckily this year, thanks to new changes in AP policy, students can rest easy knowing they can pay for all their AP tests for just a fraction of the previous cost.
For the 2023-2024 school year, MCPS has committed to paying for “Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams” as well as fees associated with taking college courses in the dual enrollment program. Previously, students who needed financial assistance for the $102 test were required to fill out a fee waiver, reducing the cost of AP tests to $15 per test. But this policy change is a better step towards eliminating the cost barrier of entry and ensuring that all MCPS students are able to access such opportunities. The reduced fee structure is a great change and should be here to stay.
Without discounts, AP tests in MCPS cost $102 per exam. Even with fee waivers, these costs can dissuade students from taking AP tests. “When I tell people what the AP costs, even before they’ve heard that there's financial aid, they hear $100 and they're like, 'I'm not taking this test,'” Blair testing coordinator Leslie Blaha says.
This prohibitive cost has resulted in a disparity in the amount of AP tests taken across different high schools in MCPS. For the class of 2022, high schools with higher-income student bodies like Walt Whitman, Winston Churchill, and Thomas S. Wootton High School had an average of 87.2 percent of graduates take one or more AP tests. In comparison, high schools in the Downcounty Consortium averaged only 55.78 percent.
Differences in AP testing follow broader patterns of economic disparities. At Whitman, Wootton, and Churchill—the three schools with the highest percent of graduates taking one or more AP exams—an average of less than 9 percent of students are Free and Reduced-price Meals (FARMS). In comparison, at Watkins Mill, Seneca Valley, and Gaithersberg—high schools with the lowest percentages of graduates (<40 percent) that have taken APs—57.3 percent of students were on FARMS.
Luckily, the new MCPS policy covers almost every cost associated with AP tests, meaning Blair students enrolled in an AP class pay just $10 instead of $102 per test. As senior Adan Guzman-Diaz explains, these reduced prices alleviates financial stress on students. “[The new policy is] a lot better for people that are part of low income families because that's kind of a struggle when we want to take APs but then we have to worry about the cost of the exam,” he says.
This decrease in prices means that more students are likely to take AP exams. “I feel like people are definitely more likely to try for AP classes and I think they're more likely to take the exam… I know a lot of people who don't plan on taking AP exams because of the price and I think with the new [price policy] they'll definitely be more willing to take it,” senior Gabrielle Aikoo says.
As Blaha testifies, the numbers speak for themselves. “At Blair we’ve got 1000 more tests than last year. So last year, we gave out 2100 tests, this year we’re giving 3300 tests,” Blaha says. Moreover, the number of students taking at least one AP test has increased from 1320 to 1440.
Additionally, the new policy decreases the risk of signing up for AP tests. Many seniors planning on attending college don’t know which school they’ll end up at until April, at which point they must pick between taking a test that will not earn them credit or paying the $40 cancellation fee. The new policy ensures that students only have to take an AP if it will actually help them earn college credit by covering for late signup and cancellation costs.
Dual enrollment is another opportunity offered to Blair students to get experience with college-level classes while in high school. As part of dual enrollment, students take certain classes at Montgomery College for both college and high school credit. Importantly, the elimination of AP fees also provides funding for students to take dual enrollment classes free of charge. Last year, MCPS paid for tuition, but students were still responsible for getting their own textbooks and paying all other fees. In previous years before that, students were responsible for all costs of dual enrollment.
This year, MCPS has stepped up to ensure that dual enrollment is as accessible as possible. As Dual Enrollment program assistant Lesli Ramirez explains, MCPS now covers all tuition and related fees. “Last year for the spring semester, MCPS paid for the tuition portion, not the fees, but this school year MCPS is covering textbooks, tuition, and fees,” Ramirez says.
This year, the results of this fee reduction change are already showing in the increased interest that dual enrollment is now receiving. “Now since it's free, there has been an increase in the number of students … I have seen more of an interest, students have reached out to me,” Ramirez says. “I think cost is a big factor. That's why there's an increase in interest.”
While these new policies are sure to benefit students, they contribute towards the overarching problem—College Board’s high prices across their standardized testing suite. By funneling money into College Board, MCPS is supporting its monopolistic practices while distributing the costs to taxpayers.
Still, by making higher level educational resources more accessible, MCPS is effectively leveling the playing field by ensuring cost is not a prohibitive factor. This is vital in the long-term to ensure that the disparities within the county shrink as students are able to access the same resources no matter their income.
Alexander Liu. Hi, I'm Alex (he/him) and I'll be a staff writer for SCO this year. I'm passionate about public policy and international relations. In my free time, I enjoy drawing and watching terrible rom-coms. More »