Las Vegas Sun

July 26, 2014

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Subsidy to help low-income Nevada students pay for AP exams renewed

The Nevada Education Department received nearly $336,000 in federal funding today to help low-income students take Advanced Placement exams.

The AP program, operated by the nonprofit College Board, offers college-level classes and exams to ambitious high school students. Some universities offer college credit for high scores on the AP exams, which tests students on a wide range of college-level subjects from U.S. government and English to calculus and physics.

Since 1999, the federal government has given subsidies to states to encourage more students — particularly those from minority and low-income backgrounds — to participate in the AP program.

The Silver State is one of 42 states awarded more than $28 million in federal grants this year to cover the majority of the AP test-taking fee for students from low-income families.

Eligible students are only required to pay $10 to take the college-level exams, which typically cost about $81. The state will pay $45 per exam, and the College Board will pay $26 per exam.

“This administration has taken unprecedented steps to boost college- and career-readiness for your young people, especially first-generation college goers,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Participation in Advanced Placement courses gives these students a jump-start in college by challenging them to develop stronger study and critical-thinking skills. These grants will eliminate some financial roadblocks and enable more minority students to gain access to rigorous AP courses, which will help them succeed in today’s knowledge economy.”

Over the past five years, the federal government has spent $275 million on the Advanced Placement Test Fee Program, which was created to promote college-level classes among high school students and subsidize exam fees for low-income students.

The federal subsidies have helped boost student enrollment in AP classes and double the number of student taking the AP exam over the past decade, according to figures from College Board.

In Nevada, nearly 2,000 high school seniors took the AP exam in 2001. A decade later, more than 6,200 students took the exam, according to Ken Woods of the College Board. That represents a 172 percent increase in the number of students taking an AP exam over the past decade.

Proponents of the federal AP test program argue it exposes students to higher academic standards, raising the expectation for student success. By encouraging students to take AP exams and obtain college credit for high school courses, proponents also say the program helps reduce the time and costs required to get a college degree.

However, critics argue this taxpayer investment has been largely wasted. Amid the political deadlock in Washington, D.C., over the nation’s debt crisis, the federal AP exam subsidy has been threatened.

A recent Politico report found that while the number of students taking the AP exams was rising, the overall pass rate on the tests had fallen and more students were receiving the lowest possible score of 1 out of a total 5.

In Nevada, the pass rate on the AP exam (a score of 3 or higher), fell from 64 percent in 2001 to 56 percent in 2011.

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