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AP tests may lose funding

ALBANY, Ga. -- Dougherty County School System officials say they will cover the costs of administering advanced placement tests in the winding-down school year, but all bets are off as to whether the program will remain free to students next year.

Advanced placement courses allow students who excel in upper-level courses to earn college credit in various areas while still in school. The programs are viewed as a way to help lower the cost of post-secondary education while raising the bar in high schools.

But with budgets being slashed and the economic aftershocks of a stubborn recession still being felt, school systems around the nation are tweaking, cutting or sometimes altogether slashing advanced courses.

Dougherty County isn't immune, DCSS spokesman R.D. Harter said in an email to the Herald Wednesday.

"In past years the state has taken an interest in helping students receive credit for advanced placement classes if they make a satisfactory grade on the completion test. The state provided funds to cover the costs of such tests to districts. This has been done as an incentive to student achievement," Harter said.

"Given the realities of the current economy, students and parents should not assume this assistance is a guaranteed benefit. Our staff searches for funding and grant opportunities with hopes of giving every student every advantage for advancing their academic career. The real benefit of the AP classes is the resulting college credit which should be the focus of those signing up for the course work regardless of who pays for the completion exam."

But the notion of forking out additional cash for a test that is required to qualify for college credit seems unfair to some high school students who say they're currently enrolled in the programs.

Alma Avila, who said she's a student in three advanced placement courses at Westover High School, posted on the Albany Herald's Facebook page that she was told by officials at her school that current students would have to pay for tests this year and that it shows poor planning on the part of school system officials.

"Today our counselor informed us that the School System is no longer going to pay for our exam. (T)hey will only pay for one test, and if we require more than one exam we will be responsible for the 87 dollar fee, per test. (I)f we choose to not take the test we are still required to pay a fee of 13 dollars," Avila wrote.

"This situation is ridiculous. Some students are forced to take these courses due to their enrollment in the Medical program. (O)thers were strongly encouraged by the counselors."

Harter and Westover Principal William Chunn both say there is money budgeted to pay for the tests this year, but again emphasized that a budget for FY 2012, which will begin July 1, has not yet been approved by the Board of Education, so it's hard to say what will and won't be funded next year.

"The office of curriculum and instruction and testing have made the commitment to continue paying for all AP testing in the DCSS for this academic year (business as usual). No decision has been made for the future. We will meet as a system this summer to discuss possible changes to this program and other programs, if any," Chunn wrote to The Herald.

In states and school systems across the country, honors programs and AP courses are facing cutbacks.

One alternative some states are pushing is use of online AP courses, but many still require tests to be administered in a classroom environment.

The Georgia Department of Education does offer AP courses through its virtual school program, but limits how testing can be completed.

Some states offer scholarships, or partial stipends, to mitigate the financial burden on more impoverished students.