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The significant growth over the past two decades in the number of low-income students participating and succeeding in AP has been driven in large part by federal funding.

The College Board provides fee reductions for AP Exams taken by low-income students. And since 1998, the federal government has also provided dedicated funding to offset the cost of AP Exams for low-income students under a Title I program called the Advanced Placement Test Fee Program (APTFP). In 1999, the second year of APTFP, over 45,000 low-income students used federal funding to help cover the cost of AP Exams. In 2016, more than 450,000 did.

Number of Low-Income AP Takers, by Annual Exam Administration
 

A chart showing an increase in the number of low-income AP takes, by annual exam administration, from below 100,000 in 1996 to over 500,000 in 2016.

This chart shows low-income AP Exam takers from both public and private schools by exam administration, not by graduating class.
 

Accessing Federal Funds for AP Exam Fees Under ESSA

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which goes into effect in 2017, eliminates APTFP. That doesn’t mean federal funding for AP Exams for low-income students will disappear. It means the process of accessing the funds will change.

Starting with the May 2017 AP Exams, federal funding will be distributed to states through one block grant: ESSA Title IV, Part A.

Learn more about funding for AP Exams through ESSA Title IV-A

States Taking Action

Several states have already made changes in reaction to the changes to federal funding.

Texas

In November 2016, the Texas Education Agency announced that in addition to the $30 state subsidy it provides to fund each AP Exam taken by low-income students, it will use its ESSA Title IV-A federal funds to maintain fee assistance for over 200,000 Texas students. The Texas Education Agency is currently working with districts and state charter schools to create a cost-sharing strategy for future funding of AP Exams taken by low-income students.

Kentucky

Declaring that “all students should have equal access to the benefit of Advanced Placement,” Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen L. Pruitt announced in December 2016 that his department would use state funds to cover the loss of dedicated federal funding for low-income students’ AP Exams. The Kentucky Department of Education stated it was making this commitment so that “schools will continue to provide Kentucky’s [low-income] students with the opportunity to take rigorous AP courses that prepare them to excel in their future college and career choices.”

 

Statewide Accountability Policy Boosts AP Performance

Data from Pennsylvania show that its accountability system, which included school indicators for the number of AP courses offered and student performance on AP Exams, had a significant effect on the AP Exam performance of Hispanic and black students in particular. Hispanic students increased their performance 4.5% more than similar students in comparison states in both the first and second years after the accountability policy was adopted in Pennsylvania. Similarly, the percent of the state’s black students scoring 3 or higher on an AP Exam grew 5.5% more than that of similar students in comparison states in the second year of Pennsylvania’s policy. This research shows that implementing a statewide accountability system that includes AP performance can have a significant, positive impact on AP performance.