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AP tests put strain on brains and budgets
Hall will pick up tab for exams after state cuts funding; city to offer aid
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Advanced Placement course testing ends across the nation today, but students in the AP Macroeconomics class at Flowery Branch High School breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when testing ended at 11 a.m.

“It was straining,” senior Hailey Drake said. “I think I finished last.”

“There were some questions I felt good about,” senior Lindsey Swansey said. “Some I just wasn’t sure about.”

“My pen busted,” senior Coulter Burch said with a laugh, holding out ink-stained hands. “And these are clean. I washed them after the test.”

Gathered in a counselor’s office Thursday afternoon, the three students laughed with relief after they completed all testing. Burch, Drake and Swansey, who have taken five, six and seven AP courses respectively, didn’t have to pay for their AP tests.

However, the General Assembly cut funding for AP tests when it passed the state budget. Instead of paying for one or two tests per student, the state will now only cover partial costs for those who receive free or reduced lunch.

In Hall County, that’s not yet a problem for parents or students. The system plans to cover the costs through local funding, even with a growing program.

“We’ve always covered the county costs,” said Sally Krisel, assistant director of teaching and learning. “Now we’ll see if we can continue to pick up all the costs.”

Students often start taking AP classes during their sophomore year, but freshmen occasionally start the program if they completed high school coursework during middle school.

“It’s all according to individual needs,” Krisel said. “But with our emphasis on growing rigorous courses and the number that are offered, the program grows each year.”

The program has evolved from 14 courses in 2006 to 30 this year, which includes virtual AP courses for students with specialized interests. Enrollment jumped from 1,174 in 2006 to 2,181 in 2008, then dropped this year to 1,486 with the first group of juniors and seniors enrolling in IB courses.

The newest AP courses to be offered are Chinese language and culture, German language, comparative government and politics, human geography and 3D studio art design.

For Gainesville schools, tests will cost more for students, but those with financial need can apply for help from a community foundation fund. About 145 students were helped by the fund this year, Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

“We want students to be able to take the test because they work so hard,” Dyer said. “Some take five tests, and the tests will cost more, so we really encourage people to give back to the fund to help, especially with budget cuts this year.”

Although Burch won’t have to pay for future tests, he said the burden of paying for the exams may help students to “take it more seriously.”

“If students had to pay, I think they’d only take the tests if they knew they’d score high enough to receive college credit,” he said.
“Today, I saw some people drawing on their tests or just not trying,” Swansey added.

Although students who take the AP exam may be eligible to earn college credit, taking the exam isn’t a requirement to enroll in AP classes. Swansey, who plans to study education at Kennesaw State University, and Burch, who plans to study philosophy and English at Covenant College in Chattanooga, like the classes because of the sense of community.

“Everyone’s on the same level as you,” Burch said. “It’s not that AP students are necessarily smarter, but they take their education seriously and will probably end up doing more interesting things in life.”

The three, who have spread their AP education across the board with psychology, statistics, literature and science exams, talked about the teachers and different courses.

“Once you take the first class, you realize other classes seem silly and you should spend your time wisely,” Burch said.

Drake, who plans to study biochemistry at the University of Georgia, laughed about her experiences of studying hard and being stressed.

“At first, it was so draining, and I bought study guides every time to help me learn on my own,” she said. “But there’s really no reason not to take AP classes.”

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