AP testing at RHS: Can students save money by opting out?
Tickets to prom or a test for possibly no credit?
A choice that students in Advanced Placement classes at Ridgefield High School haven’t been allowed to make because of the school’s mandatory AP testing policy, which costs students $96 per exam.
After the subject of AP testing fees was brought up at a Board of Education meeting March 28, board members started to take a closer look at the school’s policy.
“You can’t have the ‘so called’ best classes in the school have a price of admission,” said Nicholas Patterson, a senior at RHS.
Patterson, editor and founder of the school paper “The Ridgefielder,” wrote an article about the decline of thought-provoking and engaging lessons in favor of College Board (the institution that creates and administers AP tests, as well as the SATs) standards for essays and other course work in a majority of AP courses.
He also met with Principal Stacey Gross to discuss mandatory AP testing — and the associated costs.
In response, the school sent an email to parents explaining that students were strongly encouraged to take the test and fulfill the commitment they agreed to along with their parents at the beginning of the year.
“It is our expectation that all of our students will fulfill the requirements of the course and complete all that they have pledged to do. There is not an option to ‘opt out,’” read the letter.
“If you, as a parent, choose to refuse to allow your child to take the test — a decision with which we do not agree — that is certainly your prerogative and right.”
$15 for a blank test
Fran Walton, chairwoman of the Board of Education, told The Press that students have the ability to opt out and be charged a $15 fee to return the blank test to the College Board.
“I think the principal has been very clear,” she said. “A returned test has a cost of $15, and the other money will be returned to you.”
Patterson thinks that’s a fair solution for this year, although he says the school is not encouraging it.
“In future years, from the get-go, students should be able to choose to get the test sent or not,” said Patterson.
In the email, the administration encouraged students to take the test, and outlined the advantages of receiving college credit for it.
“Colleges want to see the level of a student’s commitment to education, and we strongly encourage fulfillment of course requirements to completion,” it said.
At the March meeting, Gross said that some teachers were concerned that having an optional test at the end of the year would detract from student performance and attention during the span of the school year.
Patterson doesn’t agree with this notion.
“If a student has no tangible benefits from taking the exam, their motivation for taking their exam or not is equal because they don’t care about the grade,” he said.
“Is it really worth making students pay $100 per class just for the idea that they’ll pay more attention?”
During his high school career, he has taken 11 AP courses — six of which he’s taking this year. He’s taken all AP tests so far, but now, with the option to opt out and save $81, he’s decided to take only the two that the University of Chicago — where he will be attending college in the fall — accepts as college credit.
Walton understands that not all higher education institutions accept all passing test scores as credit, but she says it’s still worth taking the tests because students don’t know for sure where their college careers will take them.
“People’s circumstances change. Say you decide to transfer — something happened — those APs may have helped you in some way,” she said
“That’s what I find perplexing, that people wouldn’t think that there is a benefit to it.”
Patterson said his advice to any sophomores and juniors who don’t know where they want to go to college is to take every AP test available to them, but for seniors, he said, the situation is different.
“If you’re a senior, and you know where you’re going to college and you know with certainty this test isn’t getting you anything but a stupid number, why waste your money on it?”
He added that the cost of a single test could represent a month of utilities payments for a college student.
Ridgefield High School has one of the highest rankings in the state, according to U.S News & World Report.
Senior AP test participation is one of the categories that gives RHS its high placement — No. 4 in the state.
“Our rankings are in part based on AP testing,” said Walton.
“If you look at the criteria, one of them is the number of seniors and the number of test takers — not what score they get, but how many take the test,” she said. “Last year’s class did very well — a large percentage took the test. This current year could change the rankings.”
At what cost?
Patterson agrees that AP testing has been a way for the high school to obtain favorable rankings, but he wonders at what cost.
“Ridgefield is the only school in both DRG A and DRG B to mandate that students take the test. That’s a very easy way to inflate our rankings,” he said.
“If we just get the maximum amount of students to take the test and not concern ourselves with the qualities of the class, that’s an easy way to get good rankings.”
Walton said the high school will be looking further into the AP testing policy over the summer.
Patterson hopes that the tests will eventually become optional, and thinks that being able to opt out is a good first step.
“I think we need to continue our conversations,” said Walton.