Opinion

HS Counselor’s View: New Early Registration Date & Extra Fees for Advanced Placement Exams Are Setting Up Low-Income Students to Fail

By Jennifer Wander | April 1, 2019

As a high school counselor, I see juniors and seniors coping with the anxiety of applying for and getting into college every day. The cost of applications and exams, not to mention the prep courses and other expenses regularly paid by privileged families — including the current allegations of outright bribery — are widening the gap between what is possible for wealthy students and those in difficult economic situations.

Now, the College Board, which administers the important Advanced Placement program that awards college credit to high schoolers, is proposing changes that will hurt students, and low-income students in particular.

Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, students will be required to register for AP exams in November, rather than in March. In my state, most public schools don’t begin classes until the first week of September, so the academic year has barely started in November and most students do not know yet whether they will be prepared for this high-stakes test.

In addition to this early deadline and a $94 fee for each exam, the College Board’s new policy will also include a $40 late registration fee and a $40 cancellation fee — making AP even more unaffordable for many families struggling to keep up.

The AP exams, which are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, take place in May; forcing high school students to register six months in advance will inevitably result in many more people signing up late because they don’t know if they’ll be ready or canceling because they are not prepared when the time comes.

A spokesman for the College Board told the Washington Post the new system will reduce paperwork and that “it’s not about profit.” But this is clearly not in the interest of students.

Advanced Placement is an important program for my students who need to reduce their college costs. But the College Board is setting up low-income kids to fail. While the College Board boasts that during a pilot program, more low-income students registered and earned at least a 3 on the test — the minimum score needed for potential college credit — early registration also appeared to increase the number of low-income students who failed to score at least a 3.

In response to the data, the College Board says the early registration timetable will allow it to provide new educational resources to help kids prepare for the AP test. But what does one have to do with the other? Teachers and guidance counselors are always delighted to pass along helpful instructional materials to give students that extra boost of confidence. But we don’t need November registrations to make that happen.

Every high school counselor and AP teacher around the country will have to invest our precious time figuring out this new process — time none of us have at the beginning of the school year. I see no benefit for students or educators because of these changes. But the College Board is estimated to make millions of dollars with this new policy on top of the $1.1 billion in assets the nonprofit held in 2016.

In addition, the College Board sells students’ personal data for 45 cents per student name. Depending on the test, as many as 85 percent of students allow testing organizations to market their profiles, including their name, grades and mailing addresses, without realizing they are entering themselves in a marketing database for the rest of their lives.

The College Board has a monopoly not only on the AP exam, but also on the SAT and PSAT. It creates the tests, writes the materials to prepare for the tests and then grades the tests. Does this seem fair? One organization should not have this much control over students and their futures.

I urge the College Board to keep AP exam registrations in March, to drop the $40 late and cancellation fees, and to not coerce students to provide their personal data to the College Board, whether or not they are taking the AP exam.

Jennifer Wander is a high school counselor and Advanced Placement coordinator in New Richmond, Wisconsin. She has a Change.org petition urging the College Board to keep the AP exams as they are.

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