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Students urge City Schools of Decatur to continue paying for AP, IB exams

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Students urge City Schools of Decatur to continue paying for AP, IB exams

Decatur High School, City Schools of Decatur, N McDonough Street.

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — During the Sept. 13 Decatur School Board meeting, students and parents asked the district to reconsider a decision to shift to families incurring the cost of advanced placement and international baccalaureate exams.

In February, the school board discussed creating a structure where families who can afford to pay the fees would cover the cost for their students.

On Wednesday, Sept. 7, Decatur High School Principal Rochelle Lofstrand emailed families informing them that families have the option to pay for AP and IB exams this school year, and in the 2023-2024 school year, families will have to pay for the registration and assessments, with financial support available.

Here is the full email from Lofstrand:

Dear DHS Families,

For many years, CSD has had a practice of paying for all International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) exams for all students sitting for the tests. Now that our school has approximately 870 test takers at the cost of $249,417 in 2022, it is not feasible for the school and district to continue to cover the total cost of the tests. Additionally, automatically covering testing fees for all CSD students creates a financial burden for the district not typically accrued by schools and an equity issue in our schools. A disproportionate number of students have families who benefit from free testing fees (in the form of college credit, college admissions, and scholarships) and could comfortably incur the costs of such exams. Thus, creating a structure where families who can afford to pay fees cover these costs for their students would free up District funds to provide more resources for students who are in greater financial need.

CSD strongly desires that the fees not dissuade any student who wants to pursue AP and IB coursework and assessment and opportunities for scholarships will be available.

So what does this mean for families going forward?

2022-2023 School Year:

— All families have the option to pay for the exams this year at $97 per AP test and $119 per IB exam. Fees will be added to the parent portal. Payment plans and scholarships will be available. Contact Ms. Lofstrand at [email protected] for this support.

2023-2024 School Year and Beyond:

— Families will incur the cost of AP/IB registration and assessments, with financial support available.

How can parents and students learn more about how this?

Parents and students can listen to the Board of Education Work Session recording from February 2022 to learn more about the rationale behind this change.

Also, Ms. Lofstrand will host a virtual Town Hall about this topic and various other topics on September 29 at 7 pm. More information about this virtual event will be shared closer to the 29th.

“The recent changes to our IB costs for exams is unfair, inequitable and unacceptable,” Decatur High School student Maggie Stearns said. “I decided to join the diploma program early last year before the decision was made because I was on the advanced track already and my counselor recommended this pathway to maximize my educational success in Decatur High School.”

She added that the Decatur system is designed to put students into the IB diploma program, and if the district wants families to fully pay for exams, other pathways like advanced placement or honors should be available to students.

“If you want to have a full IB system, you must pay for our testing,” Stearns said. “This also discourages people from joining the IB program. A ton of people will switch to dual enrollment due to the fear of paying for the cost of the testing.”

Students should have been informed of the decision sooner, she said.

“It was mentioned that you will be informing current eighth graders about their decisions, so they can therefore plan for high school accordingly based off of the costs; however, that is too late for those classes, such as 2024, 2025 and 2026,” Stearns said. “We have already made our decisions, assuming that we won’t have to pay for the IB exams. If you want to implement this, I would suggest starting with the class of 2027.”

DHS senior Ruby Skillman is an IB diploma candidate at the high school. She said she finds the announcement of students being required to pay for the exam fees in the upcoming years to be troubling.

“I currently take eight IB courses, including theory of knowledge. In May 2023, I will sit for six IB end-of-course exams,” Skillman said. “At $119 per IB test, I will be paying $714 out of pocket. For families who have multiple children taking IB and AP exams, the cost of these exams can become exorbitant.”

The exams provide students with opportunities to gain college credit and scholarships that can help students choosing to further their education in college, she added.

In the email, Lofstrand also addressed financial aid and said scholarship opportunities will be available for families.

“I find this to be an unsatisfactory solution to a complex problem. Students who are eligible for financial aid have parents who are working at least one job, if not two, just to pay extremely high housing costs and property taxes, so they can live in the city of Decatur for their child to get a good education,” Skillman said. “Having these families fill out more forms for financial aid is just another hoop you’re asking them to jump through.”

In February, Lofstrand proposed some changes to the testing fees during a work session with the school board. 

For the class of 2023, she suggested an idea to let students choose whether they will take each exam since they have completed one year of the IB program. If they decide to take the test, the district will register them and pay the fee. However, if students register for an exam in the fall and do not take the exam in the spring, they must reimburse the district for the cost of the exam.

“For the class of 2024 and beyond, families would incur the cost of the tests, with financial support available,” Lofstrand said. “It is absolutely essential that our families know that these fees should not dissuade them from participating in our program at all.”

There are about 442 students in the IB programs, and about 601 students enrolled in AP courses, according to the school district.

She added it’s important that the district provide an easy way for families to apply for assistance and CSD will cover the cost or part of the cost depending on what the families’ needs are.

“We feel that we would still need to budget every year approximately $50,000 in order to support our families who might need the financial assistance,” Lofstrand said.

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