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Education Department Awards Grants to Defray Costs of AP Tests

In a push to prepare more low-income students for college or a career, the U.S. Department of Education Wednesday awarded $28.4 million in grants to help defray the cost of taking advanced placement (AP) tests.

"Advanced Placement classes and the corresponding exams come with very high expectations for our students, as well as important early exposure to the demands and rigor of college-level courses, all while still in high school," said John King, a senior advisor responsible for the duties of the deputy secretary. "These grants are a smart investment in equity and a way to eliminate barriers for low-income students, level the playing field, and allow more students to access the college-level critical thinking and reasoning skills taught in AP courses."

The grants, which range in size from $10.6 million for California to $22,000 for Vermont, will be doled out to 38 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands. The funding level for each recipient was determined by their individual estimates of the numbers of tests that would be taken by low-income students. 

Here's a chart with the state-by-state breakdown:

AP1.PNGAP2.PNGThe grants are expected to cover all but $12 of the cost of each AP test taken. 

By subsidizing test fees for low-income students, department officials said, the program is intended to encourage that subgroup of students to take AP tests and obtain college credit for high school courses, reducing the time and cost required to complete a postsecondary degree.

The administration has been prioritizing this issue for the past few years, and in fiscal year 2013 Congress increased funding for the program from $20 million to $28.9 million. In fiscal 2014 it was similarly appropriated at $28.5 million.

Preliminary results show that between 2014 and 2015, the number of tests for low-income students covered by the program increased from 768,772 to 831,913, an improvement of more than 7 percent, according to the department.

"We particularly want to ensure that college-going culture is available to our low-income students," said King during a press call with reporters Wednesday. "Secretary Duncan and I both believe it is our role to help eliminate barriers whenever possible."

Also on the press call was Nevada education chief Dale Erquiaga, who credited the federal grant with boosting the number of low-income students taking AP tests, from 79 students in 2003 to nearly 5,000 students last year.

"In a state like mine that's critical," Erquiaga said. "Our state has one of the lowest degrees of post-secondary attainment levels, less than 30 percent. We're working very hard to open the door to college, and this program is a critical piece of that effort."

Erquiaga added that because of the federal grant's results, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval recently approved $1 million in the state budget for a similar state-run program to boost low-income and minority student access to AP tests.

Here are some additional Education Department data on the number of AP test taken by low-income students and their outcomes:

AP4.PNG

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