Encouraging students to take AP exams

December 13, 2018

Houston ISD spends more than $1 million a year on AP test fees, but its leaders estimate potential savings each year of $9.3 million for students who receive college credit for good test results. When you have a learning tool this effective, pay for it gladly and reject toothless substitutes—like test-free AP course—that don’t do the job.

Ten years ago, leaders of the Houston Independent School District knew that college-level Advanced Placement tests had become prime motivators of deep learning. Yet fewer than half of the Hispanic and African American students who were the majority in that system were getting a chance to experience those exams.

So Houston leaders did something daring. They announced that every student who took an AP course would also take the AP test, more than three hours long and graded by independent experts. The district would pay the fees.

This had an electric effect on both AP participation and success. The number of AP tests taken increased 143.5 percent from 2009 to 2017. The number of tests with passing scores went up 94 percent.