Northampton High School students seek change in AP test policy

  • Northampton High School

Published: 4/27/2018 2:00:56 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Student leaders at Northampton High School are pushing the school to drop a requirement that forces students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses to take the AP exam at the end of the school year, saying it’s unnecessary and costly to families.

“We firmly believe that it makes the most sense to make the policy optional at Northampton High School, meaning students can choose whether or not if they want to take the test,” said senior Hazel Ethier, president of the NHS Student Union. “As it is now, your grade in the class has no actual dependency on how you do on the test. We believe making the test optional is the easiest way to alleviate some of the burden on families.”

The Student Union Advanced Placement Testing Report, available on its Facebook page at, has already resulted in the School Committee considering possible changes in the policy.

Now the Student Union wants the wider community in the city to participate in the conversation. The group is holding a public discussion on the topic at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the high school’s little theater.

AP classes allow students to take college-level courses while still in high school. At the end of the course, each student must take an AP exam which is given nationwide. The fee this year is $94 for each test.

While the exams do not affect students’ high school grades, they are used by some colleges in the admission process and in granting college credits.

“Our feeling is that, basically, students are being asked to pay money if they want to take a more advanced class and challenge themselves,” Ethier said. “It’s a public school and we just don’t feel that is equitable.”

In coming up with its recommendation, the Student Union surveyed a representative group of 94 students on the topic. Of the students surveyed, just over 87 percent said that AP exams should not be required.

“It really highlights that the student body is in favor of making our exams optional and that is what Student Union is there to represent and we really believe that the student body should be the ones to have that choice,” said Mary Andrews, a junior and secretary for the Student Union.

Jay-Ho Chung, a junior and vice president of the Student Union, said one of its members has expressed concern over how the change could affect the school’s profile. “I think he just wants to make sure this issue is looked at thoroughly,” Chung said.

To do that, the students also polled AP class teachers — who were about evenly split on the issue — and reviewed the policy of 14 other schools in the state, of which nine do not require the AP exams. The Student Union has already done some research on the topic of how changing the policy could affect the school’s ranking and is still gathering information on the question.

“Really our goal with this is to be able expand the amount of people who can take AP classes and who get to receive the benefits of challenging themselves in a more rigorous class without the attachment of money being an issue,” Ethier said.

The high school boasts the largest AP program in the Pioneer Valley with a total of 19 different courses offered, according to Northampton Schools Superintendent John Provost. The AP classes are offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors.

In the 2016-17 academic year, 318 students took a total of 650 AP tests, Provost said. There were 874 students at the school that year, but not including freshmen, the student population was 647. In 2017, each AP test cost $93.

Members of the high school’s Student Union have given a series of presentations on the topic to the School Committee, School Council, high school department heads and the school’s parent teacher organization.

“One of the things that was very clear, the students wanted to bring a discussion about AP practices,” Provost said. “Where that discussion has gone for me has been to trying to increase access to AP programs for our entire student population.”

After the topic was presented to the School Committee, two issues were sent to subcommittees for consideration, according to Provost.

The policy subcommittee has drafted a proposal regarding financial assistance for the cost of AP tests. The cost of tests are already subsidized for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. If adopted, the proposed policy would extend financial assistance to students from families whose income is up to 200 percent of the poverty level, Provost explained. The policy will be considered at the May 10 School Committee meeting, Provost said.

The curriculum subcommittee will discuss next month whether students enrolled in AP classes should be required to take the AP test, Provost said.

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