The Paly Voice

What went wrong with AP testing

Grant Raffel, Author

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There has recently been some ambiguity surrounding Advanced Placement Tests, but Palo Alto High School students enrolled in AP classes are NOT required to take them.

Assistant principal Jerry Berkson received a phone call from the Palo Alto Unified School District office last month in regard to an article (see page: 12/22) that appeared in The Campanile. The article stated that some teachers were requiring students to take the AP Test, and led some to believe that students were required to take AP Tests.

Yancy Hawkins of the fiscal services department called Berkson asking if the article was true.

“[Hawkins] read [the story] and said, ‘Hey, you can’t do that’,” Berkson said. “She called me right away to see if that was going on and I said I’d look into it.”

Berkson then emailed all the AP teachers in order to clarify the situation.

“I wrote an email over the weekend saying ‘On Monday, let all your students know that it is not mandatory to take the test and they can get a refund by Wednesday if they would like,’” Berkson said.

AP students must sign a contract before enrolling in AP classes, but this contract states that students are “expected”, not “required” to take the AP Test at the end of the year.

“The wording is ‘we expect you to take the AP’,” Berkson said.  “Well, expect and require are two different things. [We will] look at the contract to see it we can use it or if we need to reword it.”

No matter the wording, there is no doubt that many students believed they had to take the AP Test.  Berkson confirmed that some teachers were requiring their students to take it.  

“‘Expected’ is really gray to start with.  When you start putting a grade with it as well, that becomes a problem.”

As a public high school, Paly cannot require its students to spend $110 for an AP Test because students would not be receiving a free education.

Berkson mentioned that the American Civil Liberties Union has filed lawsuits contesting what it has perceived as violations of free public education in recent years.

“This all relates to a free education,” Berkson said.  

When asked what would have happened had Yawkins not read the article and had not informed Berkson of the issue, Berkson responded that, “There isn’t a failsafe.”

“There’s all sorts of things that could get by in the system … [or] it can come up in an audit, it can come up by an angry person who says ‘hey, this isn’t right’, it can come up from someone innocently reading an innocent article … [but] if people would just communicate concerns to the right person, we would have a whole lot fewer issues,” Berkson continued.

Math department Instructional Supervisor Radu Toma understands the financial limitations.

“Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t force anyone to take it [the AP Test], especially since they pile up these costs,” Toma said.

However, while Berkson made it clear that PAUSD would be unable to pay for every student to take the test, he said that students who prove financial need and who desire to take the test should be able to take AP tests, and that many students have been financially supported over the years.

According to Berkson, the school could not cover all costs “in today’s financial climate.”

“We do cover some students … who have shown financial need,” Berkson said. “Between the College Board and us, it’s covered for people who have the financial need.”

Toma stands in agreement with this position.

“[If students need financial assistance we should be able] to communicate one on one,” Toma said. “I’m almost certain I can help people out as long as it’s not a frivolous request.”

Though Toma does not require his students to take the test, he strongly encourages those who have mastered the material to do so.

“As a matter of principle it’s important for people to know they worked for a full year for a reason,” Toma said. “And since our results in math are top results, in all likelihood it would be worth taking it for pretty much everyone who is in good standing in the class.”

Toma expressed the additional benefit of being able to see one’s achievement on a national scale.

“[AP tests] are absolute measures … [they show students their] standing next to mass students nationwide as opposed to students in your class.”

Senior Corso Rosati is choosing to take the AP English Literature exam for reasons similar to the ones Toma presented.

“It’s what we’ve been preparing for all year so I might as well take [the AP literature test]. There’s no reason not to. I love analyzing literature.”

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