PINE BELT (WDAM) - A new grant from the U.S. Department of Education will help cover the cost of high school Advanced Placement (AP) exams for low-income students in Mississippi, and Pine Belt administrators said it will be a tremendous help to their students.
"The cost of the AP exam has been a stumbling block for some districts for a long time," said Tommy Parker, superintendent of the Jones County School District. "It's great to the the United States Department of Education stepped up and MDE stepped up and applied for the grant."
The Mississippi Department of Education received a total of $189,781 in grant funds, and says that money should cover all but $15 of the $93 tests for students from low-income families.
"These grants help create equitable access to opportunities to earn college credit while in high school," said Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. "There is no limit to what students can achieve when financial barriers are removed and students are given the opportunity to excel."
Gina Gallant, and administrator for the Forrest County School District, said she often sees AP students in her district unable to take their tests because of the high price.
"(The) tremendous majority of our students have a difficult time finding funding for their exam," Gallant said. "Our students would definitely benefit. $15 is a very small amount of money for them to have the opportunity to take that AP exam and perform at those levels advanced levels like students who do have funding."
Parker said, "We're one of those districts that will benefit, probably, more than some. Our student population averages about 70 percent free and reduced lunch, and I'm sure that this grant addresses low-income families. So I'm guessing they'll use the free and reduced lunch qualify those students for that grant."
Both said the grant should allow their students the opportunities to receive college credit as students in wealthier districts.
"Unfortunately, sometimes, it hinders their opportunities because they cannot fund those particular courses," Gallant said.
Parker said, "This whole process of getting us some help will help us level the playing field with other districts that might be better able to afford, and their student body might better be able to afford the cost of the AP exam."
The U.S. Department of Education agrees.
"The cost of a test should never prevent students from taking their first step towards higher education through advanced placement courses," said James Cole Jr., general counsel delegated the duties of deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. "These grants are an important tool for states, and ultimately schools, to empower students from low-income neighborhoods to succeed in challenging courses."
The Mississippi Department of Education and the Forrest County and Jones County school districts hope more students are able to take and score well on the exams to give them course credit ahead of college, but also to make sure the district's AP classes are preparing students well for the tests.
"We are working to increase the number of students exposed to AP courses and exams," said Jean Massey, MDE executive director of secondary education. "The AP exams let us know that students are getting a good AP experience and are prepared for post-secondary coursework."
Parker said, "By them taking that test, they earn the college credit, and that's a benefit for them to help give them a head start as they enter into college. Also, it helps us evaluate our AP programs to know that our students are receiving the proper instruction to be successful on those exams."
Parker said more students taking the tests and performing well enough to receive college credit will be especially important under the state's new accountability model.
"You get a certain amount of credit for acceleration, as they call it, for the percentage of students that score and get college credit on the AP exam, so it will be a benefit to the district as more and more of those students take the AP exam," Parker said.