Consider this: justifying the cost of standardized tests

Understandably, the College Board (CB) is the target of a lot of student frustration. The College Board administers both the SAT and the Advanced Placement (AP) exams, so they are responsible for many of the high-stakes tests that Marlborough students take during their upper school years. We’re talking about standardized exams that last three or more hours and that matter a lot in the college admissions process and for possible credit once actually in college. They aren’t fun; they’re stressful, even if you are well prepared.

Science Instructor Lisa Ellis

As Sophia ’19 pointed out in the August 28 edition of the UltraViolet, the exams are expensive, and the supposedly non-profit CB takes in more money than it spends. It doesn’t seem right, but is it? I am by no means an apologist for the CB, but as an AP reader I have information that can put costs in perspective.

First, my understanding is that while the SAT program does make money for the CB, the AP program does not. So why does it cost $94 to take an AP exam? Where does all that money go?

Consider AP Biology. Last year over 260,000 students took the AP Bio exam. The multiple choice section is fairly easily scored by machines. But the free response section (consisting of 8 questions) must be scored by humans. What’s involved in that?

About 100 biology professionals travel to Kansas City to meet for several days, building scoring guidelines for each question. Then about 500 more biology professionals show up and get trained on how to score the questions. All of the readers have to be flown in, housed in hotels and fed three meals and two snacks a day. (Most of us wouldn’t do it if the work were done from home.) The actual scoring takes seven straight days of full-time work. Throughout the week, about 100 temporary workers keep the folders flowing to the readers, so we don’t have to waste time doing anything other than reading and scoring. Everyone gets paid for their time and effort, as they should. It’s not easy work.

When I first saw the scale of the operation and understood what was involved in bringing all of those people together with the goal of fairly and consistently scoring so many exams, I realized why AP exams cost as much as they do. I have no doubt that if the CB charged less, the scoring would not be as reliable and high-quality. Fortunately, some states and public school districts cover the cost for all students. If all schools did that, which I would strongly support, it would address some of the equity issues that Sophia raised in her article. Money should never get in the way of any student having the opportunity to take an AP course, but money is necessary to make the AP exam itself successful.

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