A 2017 report commissioned by Springfield Public Schools indicated that although black and white students as well as low-income and non-low-income students enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) courses at similar rates, black and low-income students are less likely to access the end of the course exam that can earn a student college credit.
When this issue was identified, Springfield Public Schools leadership immediately realized that those inequities only serve to widen achievement gaps, and Superintendent Gill and the other members of the Sangamon County Continuum of Learning set out to identify solutions.
The cost of participating in AP exams was identified as a likely barrier for many students and their families. At full cost, there is a $93 fee associated with each AP exam that a student registers for. For students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, the College Board (which administers the AP program nationwide) subsidizes that fee by $40, and last year the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) subsidized it by $38-- which left a $15 per exam cost for students and their families. While that is just a fraction of the original $93 cost, it is still likely to be burdensome for some of District 186's low-income students and families. Additionally, ISBE funds are not consistently available for this purpose each year, making the actual cost unclear to students and families and variable from year to year.
In response to that remaining need, the Continuum of Learning piloted the AP Test Equity initiative in Spring 2018 as a means of ensuring that students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch could take all of their AP exams at no cost. Local, private funds were mobilized through the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and the full amount needed to supplement the College Board and ISBE subsidies for all eligible students was obtained.
231 Springfield Public Schools students took 246 AP exams free of cost, and 42 of those students earned exam scores (3, 4, or 5) that may make them eligible to enter college with course credits under their belt, thus slightly reducing the cost of higher education for them and their families. The combined potential tuition savings for all students who received fee waivers through the AP Test Equity initiative is $74,844. This means that for every $1 invested by local donors, students and their families saw a potential $3.25 in tuition savings.
The Continuum of Learning partners are encouraged by the results of this pilot, and are exploring how to improve the initiative. Some challenges persist: despite the waived cost, there were 93 exams that students received full cost waivers for and registered for but did not end up participating in. CoL aims to work with District 186 to explore how schools can build and enhance cultures of support and excitement around taking AP exams and how to collect information from students regarding why they did not take the exam. With an eye towards continuous improvement of the initiative, data will continue to be monitored as District 186 and the other CoL partners explore whether providing these funds moves the needle on equitable participation in AP courses and exams.
To learn more or get involved in the AP Test Equity initiative, email Innovate Springfield's Social Innovation Program Coordinator, Nadia Gronkowski, at Nadia@innovatespringfield.org.