AP Students and Families Brace for New Costs

Students in AP courses, like the one pictured here will face a new decision this year:  to test or not to test.  How much will cost affect their decisions?

Ms. Wheeler

Students in AP courses, like the one pictured here will face a new decision this year: to test or not to test. How much will cost affect their decisions?

Grace Ellis, Opinion Editor

I’m sitting at the dining room table after school, inhaling a cup of coffee, making a mental list to-do list – start yesterday’s pre-calc homework, think about starting today’s pre-calc homework, wrap up year-long, twenty-four seven existential crisis – when my dad sits down, slides a letter across the table, and raises his eyebrows.

Dear Parents of AP Students, I am writing to inform you that the fees for taking an Advanced Placement exam were not included in the 2018-2019 high school budget… blah blah… blah… etc… $94.00 for each exam taken. or a couple minutes, my dad and I sit across from each other in dead silence, and we do some hasty mental math.

I’m a junior. I’m taking four APs this year. Four. (And no, I don’t have regrets – just anxiety.) That’s $387.00. $387.00. As I’m piling the costs of SATs, ACTs, and subject tests onto this grand standardized testing total, my dad breaks the silence.

He taps the letter with his index finger, looks up at me, and asks “why?”

I’m not sure which “why” he is referring to. Why are you taking four APs? I thought I told you not to do that. Why do we have to pay for APs this year? We didn’t have to pay last year. Or, in the immortal words of Michael Scott to Toby Flenderson, “why are you the way that you are? I hate so much about who you choose to be.”

I find it’s best to ignore the first “why” whenever it comes up – and, for the matter, all other “whys” that are punctuated by “I thought I told you not to do that” – and I know my dad loves me, if not my choices. So I decided I would try to answer the second “why”: Why do we have to pay for APs this year?

When I asked Dr. D this question, he felt it was best to start at the dawn of time. So I got the rare opportunity to settle in for a thorough and, may I add, surprisingly fascinating history of the APs at RHS – surprisingly fascinating because it was the long answer, not the short answer that we all know so well: budget cuts.

When Dr. D first started his job as RHS Principal, about 14 years ago, AP exams were an optional part of an AP course. If students chose to take the course but not the exam, the class would be weighted as “honors,” not AP – a slightly lower boost to their GPAs. Contrary to this “optional AP exam” policy, Dr. D believed that every student should take the AP exam. After all, AP courses are supposed to emulate college courses, and college courses end in final exams. Therefore, AP courses should end in the AP exam, Dr. D concluded. A new policy was created as a result. This policy required every AP student to take the exam and pay for it.

According to Dr. D, five or six years ago, more students started taking multiple AP courses, and the community began to voice their concern about the “financial burden” imposed by the existing policy. At that point in time, RCSD had enough money in the budget to pay for students’ AP exams. So the district covered the costs of APs for every student that year and for every year after that – until now.

Now, in an effort to trim expenditures and meet the tax cap, RCSD has decided not to cover APs. Last year, the Board of Education was tasked with trimming $50,000 off of the $200,000 total RHS budget, according to Dr. Davenport. When the school is forced to trim a significant sum off the budget, Dr. D explained to me that we have to reevaluate expenses that are “supplemental,” expenses that aren’t required.

In this reevaluation of school services, Dr. D asks himself “how many students does this [service] impact?” There are several supplemental areas of the Rhinebeck High School budget. Dr. D explained that “library books cost about the same amount” as APs, which cost between $16,000 and $18,000 depending on how many AP classes students choose to take. But, to Dr. D, there is a significant difference between library expenses and AP expenses: “library books affect all students,” while APs affect only some students.

“APs cost the district between $16,000 and $18,000 depending on how many AP classes students choose to take.”

— Dr. Davenport

Drawing this conclusion, the Board of Education voted to end AP coverage this year. And Dr. D sent out the letter – the letter that I received, that many juniors, seniors, and sophomores received.

So what? What does this change in policy mean for AP students? Mr. P answered this question simply: AP students will pay for and take an AP exam or they will take a free, AP-like exam.

Essentially, AP students won’t be able to escape an exam of some sort this spring. When I asked Mr. P if it’s worth it to take an AP exam, considering the new cost, he replied that, without a doubt, it’s worth it. Why? Because “it can’t hurt you.” But it can help you measure your success in a class.

And it can even help you save money in the long-run, Mr. P explained. How? By giving you the opportunity to gain college credits, to avoid taking an expensive college class, a college class that would be much more expensive than the cost of one AP test. Of course, this benefit of taking an AP exam is, by no means, a guarantee. Only some schools award college credit for APs, and those schools tend to award credit for only high AP scores (fours or fives).

Ultimately, the choice of whether to take a costly AP exam or a free AP-based, final exam lies in the hands of AP students. And as Dr. D aptly stated, “what’s most important is that if a student wants to take an AP course, they can take an AP course,” regardless of which exam they choose to take.