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The Scoop on IB and AP: Part One

By Emma O'Leary in Student News


In 2017, the Washington Post ranked Fairview as one of the most challenging high schools in the country. They calculate an index number using “the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year.”

According to the Washington Post, 12% of the high schools in the U.S. qualified for a place on the list in 2017.

Fairview ranked 507th out of 2,368 schools. The ranking came out in May of 2017.

Some may regard this ranking as a positive recognition, but what does this number involve?  

This article will be the first of 3 in which I investigate the answers to several questions I had about advanced classes, as a student who is involved in the Honors program at Fairview.



Students taking both International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) classes are required to take a test at the end of the year to receive a weighted grade in the class, yet the costs of these tests have increased over the years and often cause grumbling amongst students.

The Royal Banner conducted an anonymous survey of 156 seniors in either AP Literature or IB LA 12 to hear their opinions about testing.

“I think testing is fine, but I feel like the classes have to teach to the test, so I don't learn as much,” said an anonymous student in response to the survey.

For IB testing, there is a $170 registration fee plus $120 for each test taken. AP is slightly cheaper; students pay $94 per test.

46.8% of the seniors surveyed said that the cost of testing was of concern for them.

According to Darren Bessett, director of the Honors program, part of the difference in cost arises from the fact that IB tests are largely free response, while AP contains a lot of multiple choice questions.

“You have to have many real-live breathing examiners to grade all the various assessments,” Bessett said about IB tests.

IB and AP tests haven’t always cost this much.

“The first thing I’ll say is that AP and IB have both raised their prices steadily, slowly but steadily, over the years,” said Bessett.

The rising costs have resulted in hundreds of dollars spent on testing for many students.

Of the 156 senior responses to the survey, 42.3% of students said that their testing cost between $400 and $700. 19.2% of the students surveyed said that their testing cost between $700 and $1,000.  

“[For] the diploma candidates, usually it’s $600 plus the AP tests, depending on how many AP [tests] they’re taking in addition to the diploma tests,” said Judy Martin, who also works in the IB office.

Rosie Pfenning, who teaches AP Calculus, does not require her students to take the AP test.

“I don’t feel like it’s my place to force them to do it, it’s my place to force them to do all of their homework and their exams for me,” she said. “I don’t want to make anybody feel singled out if they aren’t going to be able to afford the 90 bucks to take the test.”  

Despite the fact that Pfenning does not want to require students to pay for the test if they cannot afford it, there is financial aid available to help students pay for their testing.

“We don’t want any student to not take a test for cost,” Bessett said.

Bessett said that the school spends about $11,000 on testing for financial aid every year.

According to Bessett, both IB and College Board are making money off of the exams.

“I’m actually very saddened by [the monetization] because there [are] some really good things about AP and IB, and we have always leveraged the strengths of those two programs to make Fairview a better place,” said Besset.

Many students cited the fact the IB and College Board are businesses that need to make a profit to be successful as the reason behind the cost of testing.

“[IB and College Board] can make it so expensive because there are no regulations in it,” said a student in response to the survey. “And they know kids and their families will pay because college is so important in this world, and in order to get into college you need to complete these tests.”

However, Bessett said that there are benefits to taking these expensive tests. For instance, a Fairview graduate was able to start college as a second year junior due to the credits she received from her test scores.

“[AP Courses] offer students an opportunity to get ahead in college and more importantly, to save a little money,” Pfenning said. “The price to take an AP exam is much less than the price to buy the book for and then pay tuition for a college course.”

However, some students do not agree that testing is worth the cost.

“I think to some extent it’s worth it, as long as you do well on the test, because it can help you receive college credit,” said one student in response to the anonymous survey. “But tests are a requirement for many AP and IB classes, and it sometimes feels pointless if you know you will be retaking courses in college, or the credit won’t be applicable to your school.”

While Bessett thinks that many schools still give credit for AP and IB test scores, this is not always the case.

“I do think there’s a little bit of a trend for colleges and universities to take harder look at what they're giving credit for,” Bessett said.

Another student’s opinion on testing hinged on the fact that some schools do not give the desired credit.

“[AP and IB tests are] not worth the cost. To take a test that only counts minimally depending on where you go to college, you should not have to pay so much for,” the student said.

According to Pfenning, many of her students will email her and ask if she recommends that they retake the course in college, and for some she suggests moving into the next level of calculus.

“We are all thinking about college and putting ourselves in the best position we can going into colleges, which means we will acknowledge that the test prices are unfairly high but will pay them,” a student said in response to the survey. “Realistically speaking, there isn't another way to go.”

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