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Mississippi Subsidizes Advanced Placement Test Fees

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright says a federal grant will help create equitable opportunities for students to earn college credit in high school.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright says a federal grant will help create equitable opportunities for students to earn college credit in high school. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— Historically under-served students will have increased access to advanced-placement tests, thanks to a $189,781 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The Mississippi Department of Education announced today that the money will help pay the cost of the exams. AP courses cover both core and elective subjects, and are designed to introduce students to university-level curriculum in high school. Passing scores on their corresponding examinations may even earn students credit at participating colleges and universities nationwide.

MDE expects the grant to help low-income test takers, by requiring them to foot only $5 of the $93 test cost. 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, said in a Sept. 26 press release. "There is no limit to what students can achieve when financial barriers are removed and students are given the opportunity to excel."

Helping pay for the tests might help increase Mississippi's growing number of AP test takers. Thirty-four colleges receive AP test scores in Mississippi. In the 2014-2015 school year, the state's colleges received 9,861 exam scores. This past school year, they received 11,627. 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. In some schools, enough students have to want to take the course 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 solutions to help test-takers at schools that do not offer AP courses. For example, students may contact AP to find schools with coordinators who can help them arrange exams at other schools nearby. But all these barriers might be especially stalwart in schools with higher populations of low-income students, as they are typically located in areas that 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 deputy secretary 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."

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.

Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow for the Jackson Free Press and The Hechinger Report. Email her at sierra@jacksonfreepress.com.

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