As Schoology is flooded with bold and colorful posts reminding students to register for Advanced Placement (AP) exams, thoughts about the extensive cost of enrollment remain in various students’ minds. With the click of a button on the Total Registration website, more than $100 is sacrificed just to display the knowledge students have acquired from vigorous college-level courses.
Every year, hundreds of Paly students enroll in AP courses and pay upwards of $115 to take the College Board’s standardized tests.
The costs quickly pile up for students taking more than one AP course, adding on extra stress to their already intense course load.
To reduce anxiety for students and parents, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) and Paly should allocate funds to reduce the price of AP exams for all students.
This would decrease the burden on students who feel pressured to only register for select AP exams due to the excessive costs.
Currently, PAUSD lists the price range of AP exams as $115 to $145 on the Total Registration website, and The College Board lists its baseline price as $94, citing possible higher fees to cover proctoring and administration costs.
However, many other school districts in the Bay Area have lower baseline AP exam costs than PAUSD.
For example, Pleasanton Unified School District charges $100 per exam, Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District charges $105, and Santa Clara Unified School District, (SCUSD), provides free AP exams to all students.
Dr. Laurie Stapleton, the SCUSD director of secondary education, said their school board has allocated funds through one of the programs created intended to promote equity and a college-going culture in their school district to pay for students to take the SAT, ACT and AP exams.
The actions displayed by SCUSD to work towards a more fair and equal-opportunity education system are an example PAUSD should strive to follow, especially since the District is trying to close the achievement gap.
Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson attributes the high prices to proctoring and materials costs, as well as to the high volume of students taking exams every year.
This year at Paly alone, 913 students are taking 2,154 AP exams, an average of 2.36 tests per person.
The number of registered students has increased by 126 % and the number of exams has increased by 139 % in comparison with the 2018 AP exams.
Berkson estimates that Paly lost money from AP testing fees last year, and his calculations of AP Language exams this year indicate breaking even.
Although Paly offers fee waivers and reductions for students in the free/reduced lunch program, and tries to provide financial assistance for those who do not qualify, PAUSD ought to reduce prices or cover the cost of at least one AP exam per student.
Having such high prices and taking multiples APs can cause students to have to pick and choose between the classes for which they want to broadcast their knowledge and classes for which they want possible college credit.
This can be executed by designating a percentage of Paly’s budget solely towards AP testing.
However, Berkson has doubts about the prospect of lowering costs and maintains the perspective that Paly is merely a testing center for AP exams as opposed to the producer of exams.
“We’re not here to make a profit,” Berkson said. “If we were making money, sure, we can look at those figures. I don’t think we’re going to make money on this, so (reducing prices) would be tough to do. Even if we did, I don’t think it would be a significant amount.”
Berkson said the uncertainty about reducing prices comes from both The College Board’s insufficient contribution to proctoring and organizational costs, and the fact that students are making a pesonal academic and financial decision to take an AP class.
“Since it’s a choice to take this test, I’m not sure why (the District) would pay for (a student) more than what they’re paying,” Berkson said. “Students are encouraged (to take the AP exam while in an AP class), not forced.”
However, sophomore and AP Seminar student Sabrina Chan believes the competitive academic culture and “college race” at Paly creates pressure to take AP courses and exams during high school.
Chan believes the tests are overpriced, especially if a low score is received, and that AP classes should be chosen based on a student’s interest, rather than what looks good on a college application.
Some Paly parents also feel as though the price of AP exams are unreasonably high for what they provide.
Chan’s father, Ken Chan, believes AP exams should be free and incorporated into the school’s budget because he already pays property tax for public schools. Chan advocates for free AP exams to be a part of public education because AP classes and tests are now seen by many as almost a basic requirement for college admissions.
Additionally, the AP exam represents an opportunity to display mastery of the course material and validate a challenging course load.
So, while registering for an AP exam is a personal choice, PAUSD has an obligation to take into account the number of students taking APs and who view it as a standard part of high school academics
While the price may be high, an equal chance at a higher education for students with less privilege is a rewarding enough outcome to justify the expenditures.