The College Board's new test policies inconvenience both staff and students
The College Board has long been criticized for being a monopoly that profits off high school students. It charges hundreds of dollars for everything from registering for tests to sending SAT scores to colleges. Just when we thought the organization could not take any more money from students, the College Board's recent changes further increase student expenses in the name of making Advanced Placement (AP) exams more accessible. In addition to a new set of online tools for teachers to distribute classroom content, the changes only complicate and burden the AP process for everyone involved.
In early 2019, the College Board announced they would be changing their AP program by moving registration deadlines to the fall. Previously, students could wait until spring to register for an AP exam. Now, the national deadline is on Nov. 15 and Blair's registration deadline is Nov. 7.
The organization announced the change after piloting fall registration in approximately 100 schools during the 2017-18 school year. The College Board claims that in the pilot schools, passing scores increased by 12 percent in underrepresented minority student groups and 20 percent in low-income student groups. But it's crucial to consider that the pilot schools represent less than one percent of the some 22,612 schools that participate in the AP program. The results gleaned from the pilot program cannot be used to predict what will happen at every single AP school, all of which likely have different demographic makeups.
The earlier registration deadline has also left many students feeling conflicted about whether or not they should sign up for exams. Blair junior Molly Merlo-Coyne says she doesn't like the pressure to decide what her plan for AP testing is so early in the school year. "This year I'm taking harder AP classes where I don't necessarily know if I'm going to be taking the exam, and it's a lot of pressure to sign up and have to pay more to cancel them," she explains.
Merlo-Coyne's situation reflects exactly why the College Board's policy is flawed. Many students decide whether they want to sign up for an AP exam months into the class. With a November deadline, students must make that decision after finishing only one or two units of instruction, which are often an inaccurate reflection of the course's overall content and difficulty.
There's also the added financial burden. While the College Board's fee to register for an exam is still $93, the organization has introduced two new fees of $40: one for late registration and one to cancel a registration, which both apply anytime after the November deadline. A student who holds off registering until the old deadline of early March will pay $133 per exam. Though the College Board and individual schools grant fee waivers to low-income students, these expenses still add up fast.
Senior Thelma Ibe is one of several Blazers who are disappointed in the money-sucking nature of the new policy. "To me, the policy doesn't make any sense. I didn't even know that we were going to register this soon. I don't see why we have to pay to [cancel an exam] so early," Ibe says. "I feel like they're just trying to take money from us, so that's a little bit confusing." Too many students are forced to choose between saving money and having time to make a well-informed registration decision.
A data analysis by Total Registration, an exam registration service used by high schools including Blair, reveals that the College Board's portrayal of the pilot data was not reflective of the actual outcomes: there was a "33 percent increase in the number of low-income students taking the exam but only a 20 percent increase in the number of low-income students receiving a score of 3+."
Even on such a small scale, early registration did not have the intended effect. To truly help increase success and retention for minority and low-income students, the College Board needs to confront the larger systemic issues of inequity that plague their organization. Fall AP registration is the organization's attempt to slap a bandaid on a bullet hole and, in the process, take money away from the very students they claim to help.
The College Board's changes, especially in regard to the new online tools, also complicate teacher duties. Blair's AP coordinator Leslie Blaha states that many AP teachers don't find the tools helpful, making them an unnecessary item to keep track of. "Most of the teachers that I have spoken to have said that the classroom tools aren't useful enough for them to use the College Board classroom," Blaha explained. "It's an added account, it's a new username and password that teachers are creating, but that nobody's using; that seems kind of pointless."
Blaha's job is more convoluted than in past years due to the new policies. Previously, she only had to manage one test for each AP course. Now, because of the added classroom tool layer, she has the added burden of managing up to eight different sections for each class — some for teachers who choose to use the College Board's online resources, some for teachers who don't and some for students who are self-studying without an AP teacher.
Regardless of whether or not the College Board instituted early AP exam registration and online tools with positive intents, the policies benefits few people. By increasing students' stress, racking up the costs associated with standardized testing and wasting staff members' time, the changes are clearly lacking. "If the true purpose of taking AP exams is to receive college credit or receive experience in taking a college-level class," as Blaha says, "then it shouldn't matter when you register for a test." To truly optimize student success, the College Board must revert to their old systems.
Shifra Dayak. Hi, I'm Shifra! If I'm not writing articles or doing homework, I'm probably making music, browsing through dog pictures, eating Thai food, or napping. More »