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The Business of Standardized Testing

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The College Board wants high school students to take more tests.

Specifically, the organization wants more of them to enroll in Advanced Placement courses and then take the exams that are given at the end of each.

Standardized tests that generated “almost $500 million in revenue in 2022, a chunk of that from the taxpayers”.

To be fair, the poor College Board really needs that cash.

But expanding A.P.’s reach is crucial to the College Board’s future. From 2019 to 2022, revenue from its other signature product, the SAT, plummeted to $289.2 million from $403.6 million, as more colleges dropped testing requirements for admissions.

But, beyond the finances of a wealthy organization, one with “assets that are akin to a wealthy university – approximately $2 billion at the end of 2022”, what about the students who generate all the income? Does taking AP classes actually benefit them?

The answer depends on whose research you believe.

Left out of that narrative is one of the most sobering statistics in education: Some 60 percent of A.P. exams taken by low-income students this year scored too low for college credit – 1 or 2 out of 5 – a statistic that has not budged in 20 years.

Nevertheless, the College Board, citing its own research,1 says its A.P. program helps all students, regardless of scores, do better in college – a claim that has helped persuade states and local districts to help pay for the tests.

A growing body of research, however, conflicts with the College Board’s claims. One expert went so far as to call the group’s research briefs “junk science.” And some research shows that other advanced programs may make it easier for high school students to earn college credit and lower tuition costs.

Considering the Board collects “about $100 million annually in public money” (“roughly 18 percent of the program’s total revenue”) from AP tests, and their curriculum has become a “de facto national curriculum”, you’d think schools and governments might want something more solid in the way of evidence.

However, I think the greater problem with schools becoming a defacto sales force for the Advanced Placement program is that other options disappear. Kids who want take a challenging course that doesn’t come with the stress of the Board’s standardized tests have AP or nothing.

Anyway, there is much more in the Times story and it’s well worth the time to read. Especially if you are a school or district administrator with responsibility for pushing the “junk science” that is the College Board.

The photo is a reminder that the College Board also collects a lot money from licensing the AP name to publishers and tutorial services. The test prep business is probably worth hundreds of millions annually. 

1. A note about that research: “the College Board has released only the brief – not its study or its data”. Which makes it impossible to assess the validity of their claims.

1 Comment

  1. Jennifer

    Your point about the greater problem being the limiting of choices is such an important one. Living in this area, our kids have had multiple choices. The oldest opted to take Dual Enrollment classes with the community college and get credit for college that way. The youngest prefers AP classes (because that kid finds taking tests to be a fun challenge). They’ve been able to do both things at the same high school, which is wonderful. But is definitely not the norm as most high schools across the country aren’t large enough to make that happen.

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