It’s that time of year again: Students sit in silent halls for hours taking tests. But these tests aren’t just assessments of knowledge, for some families they’re an investment.
Until the 2011-2012 school year, Williamsburg-James City County public schools paid for all Advanced Placement testing, said Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for the district.
Then the shift in the 2012-2013 school year, when families started to shoulder the cost, which is now $94 a test, according to the College Board website.
Cox said that changed in order to help balance the division’s operating budget.
As a result, the number of AP exams taken has decreased from 1,823 in 2012, the last year the district paid for the test, and then dropping to 1,224 the following year. Since then, the number has risen slightly to 1,327 exams taken in the last school year.
York County Public Schools also switched from funding AP tests in 2013, said Anthony Valdu, director of secondary education for the district. Valdu said the change is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to education.
“There are advantages to both systems because the way to look at it is if you don’t feel ready and you take it, what happens to that money really,” Valdu said. “How students feel is way more important than the cost, I think.”
In both divisions, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch can receive a test fee waiver, according to the Jamestown High School website and Valdu. But, even for other families that don’t qualify for the waiver, the cost can be a burden.
“For us it doesn’t make a difference,” said parent Kimberly Osborne. “But we’re at Lafayette High School and we understand there is a big discrepancy in people’s disposable income. There are those families in between.”
To qualify for free and reduced lunch a family of four has to have a yearly income of $46,435, according to the WJCC website. But Osborne said even families who might make more than that could struggle.
“Not everyone can drop a hundred for each of these tests,” said Kim Gill in a post on the WJCC Public School Parents and Community Facebook page. “The test should be a given if the kid is in the class. There are brilliant minds out there being held back by the almighty dollar.”
In York County, students can start taking AP classes in their sophomore year and by a student’s junior year a greater variety of courses are offered, Valdu said. This can mean students are taking multiple AP classes a year and having to pay $94 for each test.
Those aren’t the only tests students have to pay for as they start preparing for college. Valdu said the district pays for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test for students, but the actual SAT, which costs $47.50 or $64.50 according to the College Board, is on the students and families.
While there are waivers for those tests, not all households are qualified.
Before 2012, a family might only pay for the SAT or the American College Test, which runs between $50.50 and $67. Now, families pay for AP tests along with other college preparatory tests.
Some parents still see it as a bargain. Gabi Watson, whose daughter now attends the University of Virginia, said she would rather pay the price for the AP test because if her child does well enough, it will make her exempt from a college course that could cost thousands of dollars.
“My daughter…used her AP credits to skip the introductory courses and basically saved a whole semester of classes,” Watson said. “So the $400 we paid for the AP saved us about $7,000.”