Mississippi will help pad the cost of Advanced Placement examinations for historically underserved students with the help of a $189, 781 award from the U.S. Department of Education, according to an announcement today by the state’s department of education.
The college- level courses cover subjects like English literature and calculus, as well as elective classes like music theory, and are designed to allow students to tackle university-level curriculum in their high-school classes. Passing scores on the examinations may earn students credit at participating colleges and universities nationwide.
Officials from the Mississippi Department of Education said in a press release they expect the grant will help low-income test takers by lowering the cost of the exams from $93 to $15 per test. Some low-income students may already qualify for a $31 test fee reduction via The College Board, the company that designs AP exams. *
“These grants help create equitable access to opportunities to earn college credit while in high school,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, in a statement. “There is no limit to what students can achieve when financial barriers are removed and students are given the opportunity to excel.”
Helping foot the bill for AP tests might help increase Mississippi’s growing number of AP test takers, especially among underrepresented groups. According to data from The College Board, the number of students taking exams in Mississippi has increased from about 3,900 in 2005 to about 7,800 in 2015. This year, The College Board recognized the Hinds County and Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School districts as AP Honor Roll Districts for increasing their participation and passing scores on AP tests.
But other barriers could limit students’ ability to sit for the exams—like the availability of AP courses themselves. Not every school offers such courses, as The College Board must certify a teacher’s syllabus in order to teach an AP course. In addition, students must also be qualified to take them, demonstrating high academic achievement in state subject area tests, core courses and electives before taking on an AP course. And in some schools, a certain number of students have to want to take the course in order to have the class established, leaving students interested in more esoteric subjects to self-directed study—with expensive materials—for the rigorous exams. *
The College Board does have some solutions to helping test takers at schools that don’t offer AP; students may contact AP services to find schools with AP coordinators who can help them arrange exams at other schools nearby. But all these barriers might be especially stalwart in schools that have higher populations of low-income students, as they are typically located in areas that might have trouble attracting and retaining highly certified instructors.
But now, at least, one worry for students is gone. “The cost of a test should never prevent students from taking their first step towards higher education through advanced placement courses,” said James Cole Jr., general counsel delegated the duties of United States Deputy of Education, in the press release. “These grants are an important tool for states, and ultimately schools, to empower students from low-income neighborhoods to succeed in challenging courses.”
Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow for the Jackson Free Press and the Hechinger Report. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that The College Board does not design AP course curriculum necessarily, but approves a teacher’s syllabus to teach an AP course. The College Board does design and administer AP exams.