Question over AP exam fees sparks debate in Portsmouth

One parent claims district is required to pay this year’s expenses

By Kristen Ray
Posted 2/18/20

PORTSMOUTH — A conversation about the future of Portsmouth High School’s AP exam policy at a recent School Committee meeting spiraled into a debate over who’s responsible to pay …

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Question over AP exam fees sparks debate in Portsmouth

One parent claims district is required to pay this year’s expenses

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — A conversation about the future of Portsmouth High School’s AP exam policy at a recent School Committee meeting spiraled into a debate over who’s responsible to pay this year’s test fees.

Unlike other similarly performing school districts like Barrington and East Greenwich, Portsmouth has, for years, been requiring its students to take their AP exams when enrolled in those courses of study. 

Costing $100 for every test ($34 for students eligible for a free or reduced-priced lunch), the responsibility has typically fallen on families to cover those expenses. But when problems over field trip fees arose last year, the Portsmouth School Department agreed to pay for the first exam for every student throughout the 2019-20 school year. 

“I don’t think we can pull back from that,” Superintendent Thomas Kenworthy said at the committee’s Feb. 11 meeting.

While he said the district had budgeted for and was still committed to following through with that promise, Mr. Kenworthy asked the committee to reconsider their policy moving forward —encouraging students to take the AP exams but not requiring them to. Although he’s yet to complete an investigation into the matter, Mr. Kenworthy said he believed most students would still take the tests. 

“They want to have the option of earning that college credit,” he said. 

While Vice Chaiman Fred Faerber III and committee member Karen McDaid wondered how pulling the exam requirement would impact items such as class rankings and transcripts in the future, parent representative Alyson Adkins had different concerns. 

It had been her understanding that all AP exams would be covered this year, she said, not just the first ones for each student. Then she found a 2001 decision from the Rhode Island commissioner of education, stating that districts should pay the AP exam fees if students are required to take them. 

“The school department is required to pay for the exams this year; they’re required in the past to pay for them,” Ms. Adkins said. “We just didn’t realize it.”

Un-budgeted expense

But with 373 students taking 623 exams, that would mean an additional expense of $25,000 that’s not covered in the budget, Mr. Kenworthy said, noting that most tests had already been paid for. 

Acknowledging they had gotten themselves in a bit of a “dilemma,” Committee Chairwoman Emily Copeland cited three major points of concern that need to be addressed: Should the policy be changed? If so, how would that be reflected on a student’s transcripts? And, what to do about this year?

The committee voted unanimously to table the discussion until a future meeting.

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