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Decatur School Board decides to revisit AP, IB exam fees next year

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Decatur School Board decides to revisit AP, IB exam fees next year

(l-r) City Schools of Decatur School Board members James Herndon, Dr. Carmen Sulton, Jana Johnson-Davis, Tasha White and Hans Utz. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — This year, Decatur High School families will have the option to pay for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. Fees would be added to the parent portal, and scholarships will be available.

The Decatur School Board, at its Oct. 11 meeting, decided to stick with its decision on the testing fees for this year and will consider looking at the fee structure next year.

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.

Superintendent Maggie Fehrman recommended that the school board stick with its decision, as that is what the district planned on in the current fiscal year’s budget.

If the school board wished to make changes for the 2022-2023 school year, it would require a budget amendment. Fehrman said that next year the district and board could look at possibly paying for one IB and/or AP test per student. The district has previously paid for all AP and IB exams students take.

“We want to encourage students to take those tests. They are meaningful for the students, but I do want to also say for the number of students that go through the program in CSD, it has become a pretty big financial burden to our school system,” Fehrman said. “I do think we need to balance that approach a little bit and look at ways to pay a little bit for some of the students, but not still paying for seven or eight assessments every single year for these students.”

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

She added that the district is not in a place with its current budget to be able to determine the overall financial impact the change has made to make an educated assumption for next year.

The administration did some additional research and found some other school districts that pay for a percentage of IB testing. School Board member Hans Utz liked a policy from some other school districts where if students sign up for a test, but then do not take the test, then the families would be responsible for the cost of the exam. He added that it would be helpful to know how many tests are paid for but not taken in CSD.

“I am just honestly a little bit uncomfortable if we’re going to say we’re going to revisit it next year because then it means that we have a year now of seniors that we’re sort of just not allowing the benefit from whatever our potential long-term program is,” Utz said.

Board chair Jana Johnson-Davis said the school board has to do what is best for the district financially. Board member Tasha White said the board has to look at what’s best for the school district, and what makes sense for CSD and its size.

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.

One student who spoke at the meeting opposed to the change.

“The recent changes to our IB costs for exams is unfair, inequitable and unacceptable,” Decatur High School student Maggie Stearns said at the September board meeting. “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.”

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

Lofstrand previously said 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,” she said.

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