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District weighs AP test charges

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 12:36 a.m.

The Armstrong School District could implement a fee for students who underperform on Advanced Placement course tests and several new classes next school year.

The district's administration recommended students who score a 2 or lower, out of a possible 5, on Advance Placement tests pay a fee of $15, according to Shauna Braun-Zukowski, coordinator of curriculum, instruction, assessment and accountability.

Armstrong School District pays for students to take AP tests. Each exam costs $89 per student, Braun-Zukowski said.

The courses, which are weighted, allow students to earn college credit while still in high school.

“We'd still pay the bulk of the exam, but we had some students in past years that would not take the exams seriously,” Braun-Zukowski said. “Some students were not even opening the test booklet.

“And $15 isn't a lot, but at least it would encourage them to put some effort into the exam and course. It's not a large number of students who do it, but it is frustrating.”

She did not supply information on how many students take the AP tests each year, but said no more than about 10 percent of students score a 2 or lower.

Board member Larry Robb said he opposes the fee for both ethical and logistical reasons.

“We should pay for it, but basing the fee on the outcome of their exam, it could be a real hassle collecting,” Robb said. “It's going to be a lot of work, and a fee based on test scores could discourage students from taking these classes.

“For $15, I just don't think it's worth it.”

Braun-Zukowski acknowledged collecting the fee would be difficult once the scores were released. She suggested collecting the fee in advance and reimbursing students once scores are released.

Other districts base the cost of exams on performance, including Pine-Richland School District, which gives students half of the exam fee back if they score a 3 or higher, according to Braun-Zukowski.

South Butler School District reimburses the entire cost of the tests if students score a 3 or higher, she said.

New courses sought

In addition to the fee, administrators hope to add about a dozen courses at the secondary level.

They include American Geo-Political Conflict, three computer programming classes, World History, Studio Art 9 and STEAM Art, which incorporates elements of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, Braun-Zukowski said.

None of the classes require any additional staff members, she said, but several could cost the district money to establish.

For example, STEAM Art requires the district to buy about 60 iPads, an iPad cart and licenses for Adobe Creative Cloud Software. That totals $66,000.

The equipment, she added, could be used in other classrooms.

In all, the additional classes — which would be offered at Ford City, Kittanning and West Shamokin high schools — would cost the district about $84,500, she said.

Braun-Zukowski said grants may be available to help cover the costs of the STEAM Art requirements.

“We started with 104 courses for our students, and, with what we've presented, we could be up to 119 courses for students in ninth through 12th grades,” Braun-Zukowski said. “That means we've seen a 13 percent growth over the last three years.”

The board plans to vote on the AP exam fee and adding the new courses on Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in West Hills Intermediate School.

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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