“We just had our laptops out and they had us join their class [on the College Board site],” said an anonymous junior with regards to the new AP Classroom online resource from College Board. According to the College Board website, this feature offers “more practice materials and insight into the test than ever before,” and displays a “Streamlined Student Registration” service for AP exam coordinators. “There was no option; we just had to do [join],” he said, describing the unclarity of the situation.
His experience is not unlike many other students’ this year. AP teachers have had their students sign on to the corresponding AP Classroom section using a code to identify the class they are in. Although the AP Classroom feature was implemented by College Board — the organization that owns AP exams — the Lowell administration made the decision to automatically pre-register every student for their corresponding test when they join their AP Classroom section using the Streamlined Student Registration option. Pre-registering assumes that all students who join the AP Classroom site will take the test in the spring, which was made clear by very few teachers. Even though students can avoid taking the test by not paying the $99 fee by Nov. 6, automatic registration means that instead of getting to choose whether or not to take the AP test, students have to go out of their way to opt out. This is representative of a larger problem at Lowell: the overall pressure and expectation to take AP tests.
Even before the AP Classroom feature was introduced, many students felt the need to take AP tests if they took an AP course. An anonymous junior said she experienced a lot of pressure from the school and her teachers to take AP tests. “My AP [European History] teacher said, ‘If you’re in this class and you’re not taking the AP test, you’re taking up a spot for someone else,’” she said. She added that this mentality is concerning because it places more value on a single exam rather than a whole course of in depth learning and growth as a scholar.
The student also said that this year, she is considering not taking her AP U.S. History exam. “In the spring semester, I’m taking [the] SAT, I’m taking three AP [exams], and I’m doing two shows,” she said. “I feel like dropping one of the AP tests will lessen my stress a little.” She is not alone in this workload. According to a poll on The Lowell’s Instagram account, 76 percent of Lowell students who responded are taking anywhere from one to five or more AP classes.
Studying for and taking AP tests is not only stressful, but very expensive. The junior explained that one of the reasons she doesn’t want to take the APUSH exam is because it poses a financial hardship for her family. Although financial aid is offered to some students through California’s Free-Or-Reduced-Lunch program and through need-based scholarships made by the Lowell Alumni Association, many students still find it expensive to pay for AP exams. “With my family, our income changes a lot each year,” she said. “Some years I get free-and-reduced-lunch and some years I don’t, so I’m [either] paying $300 or $30.” Students should be able to make their own decisions when it comes to something as expensive as the AP exams, without pressure from the school.
As it turns out, having more students take their AP tests is in the school’s best interest. College Board provides some amount of funding for the school’s AP program, according to assistant principal Orlando Beltran. Lowell uses this funding to hire more teachers to fill the gap left by AP teachers who are only required to teach four classes rather than the usual five. Not having enough students take exams results in AP classes to potentially be cut, as well as a loss of funding for Lowell.
Administering more AP tests also improves the school’s state and national rankings on many well-known websites. According to U.S. News Best High Schools, Lowell is ranked 54th in the nation and sixth in California. Thirty percent of this ranking relies on the percentage of students who have taken AP tests. As a result, some fear that normalizing not taking AP tests will result in a loss of prestige for the school.
Although this is a valid concern, letting students know that they are not obligated to take the exam will not necessarily mean a drastic drop in test taking. The majority of students will continue to take their AP tests, even if they know they have the option not to, as there are still the benefits of gaining college credits and exemplifying mastery of rigorous content. Showing students all their options will only benefit the subset of students for whom the advantages of taking the test might be outweighed by the disadvantages.
We believe that the Lowell administration should refrain from automatically pre-registering students, lessen the overall pressure to take AP exams, and give students more discretion in making AP test decisions. This will not harm the school; instead, it will increase transparency and avoid unnecessary stress and financial strain for many students.