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Standardized testing: The costs add up

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The month of May is fast approaching. For some, this means blooming flowers and warm weather; but for many, this means that Advanced Placement exams are also on the horizon. To many students, this time of the year brings along great stress as AP exams are administered throughout the first two weeks of the month. While preparing for these tests, many students will wonder “is it even worth it?”

At Massapequa High School, students have the option between Regents level, college level, and AP level courses. Despite the popularity of AP classes, the question remains as to whether such courses are more beneficial than their less stressful college level counterparts. These other college level classes are known as “dual-enrollment” classes. One option for these dual-enrollment classes is the Secondary Articulated Collegiate Experience (SCALE) type of class, which is also known as the LIU High School Scholars Program.

For college and SCALE classes, there is no test that pupils must take in order to earn credit. Instead, the student must end the year with a grade of D in the class to pass, and a grade of C to receive college credit. This option is a positive alternative to AP for those who want to take a challenging course but may not necessarily be the best test takers.

However, these classes come with a severe drawback: they often cost around $300 per course, depending on the college through which one would take the course and the amount of credits the course accounts for. The credits earned through these courses are transferable to a number of colleges, but transfer rates do apply depending on the college of attendance.

On the contrary, students who take AP classes must pay only to take the AP test. Prices have risen by a dollar or two  per test every year for quite a while now, with the cost now being $93 for each exam. This may seem significantly cheaper, but the costs can add up if a student takes many AP classes. Moreover, taking the AP test does not guarantee that a student will earn credits; colleges and universities require certain grades on the AP tests for credit, and many do not accept certain AP credits.

AP exams are rated on a five-point scale, one being no recommendation, two being possibly qualified, three being qualified, four being well qualified and five being extremely well qualified. Due to the manner in which the CollegeBoard grades the tests, there is an equal number of students that receive each grade, so technically test takers have the same odds in getting a one as they do receiving a five.

For students who feel as though they are strong in a subject or students who wish to attend a first- or second-tier college or university, AP courses are a crucial way to show their ability to handle rigorous college-level courses. Generally, AP classes are more difficult than dual-enrollment classes, which means they look better on a transcript than their regents-level and college-level counterparts.

“Colleges and universities accept people by region, meaning you are in direct competition with those nearby,” AP physics teacher Joseph Zanco said.  “Challenging yourself by taking the most difficult courses offered is a necessity.”

Though taking AP classes is sure to stand out on transcripts and distinguish students, do they really matter if you don’t perform well in the class or on the exam?  Some students may argue that they would rather have higher grades in a less demanding course than stress over AP’s and receive lower grades. Students like this are still going to get into college and, like with any other student, hard work will determine the success of their future.  

Not only does the College Board administer AP exams, but it also hosts the SAT, a standardized test that students have been stressing over for decades.  Prices for the SAT with essay have risen to $57 from last year’s cost of $54, a seemingly unreasonable price for a test that nobody actually wants to take. The College Board also has a financial aid form called the CSS Profile that compares to the FAFSA. Ironically, the application costs a pretty penny to submit with an application fee of nine dollars and a charge of sixteen dollars per school.  Once we take into account the $12 students must pay in order to send their scores to colleges that they are applying to, things add up pretty quickly.

For example, if one student takes five AP exams, takes the SAT three times, and applies to eight colleges, they are giving the CollegeBoard over $700 in just that one academic year. Though funds must be allocated to pay for exam proctors and test makers and printers, a decent chunk of change must make it back to the “not-for-profit” organization.  In fact, according to an article featured on CNN written by Carol Costello and Bob Ruff, the CEO of the College Board rakes in about $900,000 each year while “total yearly revenues hover near $600 million.”  While students are paying for college before they are even admitted and, in fact, before they even apply, people at the top of the college industry are making six figure salaries.  

While these exams may demonstrate students’ capacity to handle the rigors of higher education at the college level, their costs began to outweigh their advantages. Perhaps New York State could offer a program to partially or fully subsidize some of these costs, as have the departments of education Florida, Hawaii, and the New York City. If the state were able to enact such legislation, students with lower incomes could feel less burdened by the cost of these entrance exams and college placement tests and truly be able to succeed in their education.

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Standardized testing: The costs add up