When the Charles William Carter Memorial Scholarship was launched at Bonanza High School last year, no students qualified for it.
The $4,000 scholarship, which Clark County School Board member Carolyn Edwards founded in memory of her husband, is open to students who score a 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams in chemistry or environmental science.
It wasn’t until Edwards extended the scholarship to the entire district that she found enough students who met the criteria.
“This is a sad commentary and one of the reasons why this is so important to me,” she told other trustees in March as the board discussed exam requirements.
That’s one reason Edwards has pushed for requiring students in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses to take the accompanying exam.
It’s a philosophy the district has slowly been adopting, although finances and state regulations may pose a challenge.
This year, district policy requires students enrolled in those advanced classes to take the exams in order to receive a slight boost in their grade point average.
Parents can waive the testing requirement for their children, but those students receive only a weighted grade point factor of 0.025 rather than 0.05.
But district officials realized that the policy conflicts with state law, which requires students to receive the 0.05 value if they complete the course. The district plans to work with the state to resolve that discrepancy, possibly discussing a change in Nevada Administrative Code to allow for the new policy.
Meanwhile, trustees are moving toward stronger wording in the policy that would clearly state that students are required to take such exams, although parents still would be allowed to opt out.
“Teachers teach differently if they know all their kids are taking the exam,” Edwards said. “Students study differently if they know they’re going to take the exam.”
District numbers show that a majority of students took the spring exams in 2015-2016. Of 29,083 course enrollments across all advanced subjects, 21,130 exams were administered, a participation rate of about 73 percent.
Of the 5,989 students in the Class of 2016 who took an exam, 3,429 — or 57 percent — managed to earn a 3 or higher, according to district numbers.
Federal program eliminated
The College Board’s exam costs $93 per test, although a fee reduction brings the price down to $15 for low-income students.
Yet the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act has eliminated a program that covered exam fees for low-income students in advanced courses. Last year, Nevada received $415,783 through the program.
Now, districts may have to find the money from other federal funds, such as Title I money that assists high-poverty schools, or from the state’s College and Career Readiness grant.
“Where you potentially run into some issues are those middle-of-the-road kids who aren’t really affluent, but they’re not in poverty either,” said Jesse Welsh, academic manager for the district’s innovative learning environments division. “So then what do you do for those kids? There’s not as much help to support them.”
Based on last year’s numbers, covering all exam fees for every student in the district would cost roughly $1.8 million, Welsh said.
“I think everybody would agree that pushing kids towards AP and IB courses is a positive thing,” he said. “The challenge is just making sure that we’re doing it in a way that considers the ability of everybody to pay for that test.”
Advanced Placement exams in the Clark County School District, 2015-2016 school year
- 29,083 course enrollments (across all AP course offerings)
- 21,130 AP tests administered
- 35.5 percent increase in exams taken since 2013-2014