Mansfield News

June 30, 2014

School district eyes AP test exemptions

Students in advanced classes can earn exemption from finals by taking AP exam.

The school district is considering ways to close a loophole that some high school students in advanced-placement classes exploit to get out of taking final exams.

The rules reward AP class students with an exemption from their course’s final exam when they elect to take the nationally standardized AP exam for that subject, which helps determines college credit.

But those students who do not intend to exert themselves on the test -- even those who score the minimum one out of five points -- get the same exemption from the finals prepared by their teachers.

“We’ve had a high number of students in the past three years who have scored ones, and you get a one on your AP exam simply by signing your name,” Associate Superintendent Darrell Sneed told the school board at a work session last week. “These were students who were pretty adaptive at playing the game.”

He said it’s not only unfair to other students -- who have to meet grade, attendance and discipline standards to earn exemption from final exams -- it’s also a waste of tax dollars; the district has been footing the bill for administering the AP exams the past three years.

During that time, the district spent $287,000 on AP exams for students who received the minimum score, according to a staff report. At $89 per test -- following a recent doubling of the cost -- that works out to nearly 3,200 students and tests.

The district took an initial step toward a solution in March, when it stopped requiring that students take the AP exam to earn the weighted credit for the course. Now they only have to pass the course to get that extra credit, which can help highly motivated students exceed the otherwise maximum 4.0 grade point average.

Sneed said that a survey of AP teachers in the district showed nearly unanimous support -- 94 to 1 -- for the action on weighted credit and for ending the automatic exemption for students who take the AP exam.

“I think what teachers are really asking for is that students in the AP classes be required to meet the same requirements as the other students,” Sneed said.

To earn an exemption from a semester final, students must finish the course with at least an 80 average, have no more than two absences and must not have been assigned to an alternative class for bad behavior. They also can be excused from final exams by performing well on the end-of-course exams required by the state.

Vonda Nunley, principal of Lake Ridge High School, said there is no obvious solution and more discussion is needed.

“Really we’ve just skimmed the surface on it,” she said.

The staff checked with area school districts about their exemption systems but didn’t find any consensus.

“They were mixed all around out there,” she said.

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