St. Charles schools debating value of forced AP exams
St. Charles Unit District 303 officials are debating the value of a mandate that students taking Advanced Placement courses, which have seen record enrollment this year, must also pay for and take the final exam.
However, the cost of the district-mandated testing, which started in 2006-07, translates to an additional forced financial burden in the eyes of Superintendent Don Schlomann.
Each exam costs parents $91, and many students take four or five AP tests each year for which students can receive college credit if the institution they plan on attending allows it. That's an additional $455 in school expenses.
And for the 2014-2015 school year, officials reported the largest AP class enrollment -- at 2,284, a 327 jump over last year's enrollment of 1,957 -- the district has seen during a five-year upward trend, which includes students taking more than one AP class.
"This is an unfunded mandate for our parents," Schlomann said. "Together, they will spend close to a quarter million for AP testing this year. That's a lot of money. And it's hard to say we don't like unfunded mandates (from the government) when we have, in fact, an unfunded mandate."
Schlomann said it's not uncommon for a student who has learned the college he wants to go to won't accept the AP credit to attend the test, sign his name and then take a nap until the test is over.
District staffers also said their research shows Huntley is the only other district in the area that mandates the AP tests.
But some board members say the success of the program is too great to mess with.
Board member Kathy Hewell wasn't moved by any of that information.
She said students who don't want to pay for the exam can simply not take the class. There are fee waivers and financial aid for students who can't afford the cost.
"I completely disagree with you on this," Hewell said to Schlomann. "This seems to me to be an outstanding success in our district. I think it just sets a high expectation, and the students reach for that high expectation."
She pointed the increasing AP class participation numbers and the 77 percent of students who received a passing score on the exam last year. That was a 5 percentage point increase from the preceding year.
Board members Jim Gaffney and Steven Spurling said they were leaning in favor of doing away with the mandate.
"If it's that valuable, then why isn't anyone else doing it?" Spurling asked.
But board member Ed McNally sided with Hewell in pointing to the fact that teachers want the mandate to remain in place.
"We owe it to the peers of these students to not allow the students who don't want to take the exam to become confounders in the class," McNally said. "People are forced to do a lot of things they don't want to do in life."
The full school board has not yet weighed-in on the issue.