The U.S. Education Department announced Tuesday that it has granted $28.4 million to cover fees for low-income students for advanced placement tests administered in 2015 by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization, and the Cambridge International Examinations.
In a press briefing that emphasized the talking points used by supporters of the Common Core standards, U.S. Secretary of Education (USED) Arne Duncan said, “High-school instruction needs to become more rigorous to foster college and career-readiness and provide multiple pathways to success to prepare students for the 21st century global economy.”
“Advanced Placement courses are helping schools meet this challenge by developing the study skills, critical reasoning and habits of mind that prepare students for college,” Duncan said.
The department said the subsidies will encourage low-income and first-generation students to take the exams, reported the Associated Press. As a result of the taxpayer-funded grants, some students could pay as little as $18 for an advanced placement exam – or even less when added to other subsidies. Fees charged by the College Board and other companies that administer advanced placement tests can cost nearly $100 per exam.
“We recognize that there’s still a gap in educational opportunities for low-income and minority students and their more advantaged peers, including when it comes to accessing rigorous course work that is aimed at preparing them for college and the workforce,” Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle said during the briefing.
The amount of the subsidies was determined by each state‘s estimated number of advanced placement exams that would be taken by low-income students. Awards were given to 40 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands.
California received the highest grant at $10,736,965, followed by Texas at $3,018,808, New York at $2,643,454, and Illinois at $2,224,219.
Delisle said that for students for whom $18 is still too much to pay, states and local communities will handle the remaining costs.
“The department will continue to advocate for increases in the budget to cover the costs,” she said. “We would hope we could lower that $18 because it is a burden.”
According to USED:
The Obama Administration’s commitment to equity in education underlies nearly every significant activity of the Education Department–from My Brother’s Keeper to the proposed Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity grant program, which would create incentives for states and school districts to drive comprehensive change in how they identify and close opportunity and achievement gaps.
“We know that students who succeed in Advanced Placement courses in high school are also more likely to succeed in college,” said John McGrath, vice president of communications for the College Board, on Tuesday. “Fee waivers play an essential role in making these courses accessible for low-income students and help pave the way for increased opportunities as they transition to college and career.”
“Anything that makes it easier for low-income students to participate is a good thing,” said Robert Rothman, a senior fellow with the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit that focuses on education equality.
Rothman added that the cost of the exam isn’t the only factor that limits the participation of low-income students.
“A big part of the problem is the availability of classes,” he said. “Low-income students are more likely to attend schools that do not offer advanced placement classes.”
However, since many states have adopted the Common Core standards, significant concern has been raised regarding whether the lack of rigor as well as limited coverage of essential information expected in the nationalized standards in high schools that use the Common Core will actually prepare students for advanced placement courses and tests.
Last year, College Board Vice President in charge of Advanced Placement Trevor Packer said, according to AASA (school superintendents association), “AP Calculus is in conflict with the Common Core,” and it “lies outside the sequence of the Common Core because of the fear that it may unnecessarily rush students into advanced math classes for which they are not prepared.”
The College Board president is David Coleman, often called the “architect” of the Common Core standards.