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County school district spends more than $300,000 on Advanced Placement exams

DeKalb County School District (DCSD) approved a $310,000 Advanced Placement (AP) exam purchase on Feb. 13.

The purchase allows 4,443 students the opportunity to take at least one AP exam free of charge and 2,158 students the opportunity to take two exams at no cost.

AP exams are taken by high school students at the end of every school year after completing corresponding college-level AP courses. The exams award college credit in more than 35 courses, which vary from school to school.

According to DCSD officials, student performance in AP courses and on AP exams has been determined to be a valid indicator of success at the collegiate level.

The state of Georgia covers the cost of one AP exam for the 2,158 DeKalb County students enrolled in the Free & Reduced Lunch Program. This offset covers the cost of one exam for all students and two exams for reduced lunch students.

“The district’s purchase of the exams for students enrolled in AP courses will provide access and equity for students who have the opportunity to take these exams,” said DCSD research director Knox Phillips.

According to Phillips, 44 percent of students taking AP exams earn a score of three, which is the minimum score required to earn college credit. This is a 13 percent increase from scores in 2010, but still below the state average of 56 percent.

Phillips said the data comes from the annually updated Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

“State-provided data is what we report since it is the data source that informs college readiness indicators on CCRPI and is the data source utilized by the Georgia Department of Education to measure the efficacy of our AP programs,” Phillips said.

Phillips said DCSD’s participation in the Lead Higher initiative during the 2015-2016 school year led to federal acknowledgement and shows marked progress is being made through purchases such as AP tests. Southwest DeKalb, Cedar Grove, Stone Mountain, Dunwoody, Druid Hills and Arabia Mountain high schools took part in the program.

“We were one of the few school districts in the nation to be part of a movement to build better equity and access to AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) education for students across our district,” Phillips said.

For the 2016-2017 school year, Phillips said the board could look forward to hearing good news regarding the AP Report Card, which recognizes and acknowledges good scores throughout the country.

Board member Joyce Morley said she wanted to see celebrations of traditionally economically disparaged schools that have made advances in AP participation and scores. Phillips said the district has seen increases in the number of teachers trained to administer AP and IB courses at such schools as Towers, Clarkston and others.

DCSD Superintendent Stephen Green said placing priority on AP exams is part of a systemic effort that places resolution and academics above disciplinary measures.

“What I’m pleased to hear is that, contrary to popular belief, that ‘if you increase the number of students the overall score will go down,’ we’re increasing the pipeline and the scores are going up,” Green said.

Board member Marshall Orson said he would like to see the purchase budgeted earlier in the year to eliminate confusion with other costs related to test taking. He said he would like to see more data related to how the level of investment is affecting statistics.

“These costs have been increasing,” Orson said. “But I think there’s an opportunity to increase our investment in this area.

Board member Stan Jester, who criticized DCSD’s purchase of AP exams in 2016, remains skeptical of paying money to companies like College Board.

“The recent trend in education is to reward districts that have increases in AP test takers,” Jester stated Feb. 21 via his blog. “Of course, the more tests that are taken, the more money flowing into the coffers of the testing industry. It’s no wonder that they give awards for increasing their bottom line.”

Jester said DCSD is doing students and taxpayers a disservice by paying testing companies, instead having it flow directly to the classroom to improve the quality of instruction.

Jester cited a decreasing amount of test takers at Southwest DeKalb, Towers and Redan high schools as well as decreases in the number of passing students at Redan, MLK, Stone Mountain and Stephenson high schools.

“The DeKalb County School District has the second highest millage rate in the state,” Jester said. “Why don’t we lower taxes and let people decide for themselves what to do with the money?”

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