By LILIAN MOHR
During the 2019-2020 academic school year, the Redlands Unified School District has made several significant changes. Arguably some of the most beneficial of these changes came with the district’s agreement with the College Board organization.
Redlands East Valley High School specifically, will be offering 20 AP courses and exams for students, ranging in topics anywhere from AP Computer Science Principles to AP US Government. The most impressive fact about the available AP courses on Redland’s campuses actually comes down to their price tag.
In past years, the average cost to take an AP exam was $25 if a student was enrolled in the course. This price, though it might not seem outrageous to all, added up quickly for many students. To put this into perspective, some students take up to five or six AP courses per year.
Financial aid is also provided at the high schools within the district. According the Shana Delmocio, a guidance counselor at REV, “There are fee waivers that students could fill out and then have this year and every student enrolled in AP courses will only have to pay $5 per exam. Students not enrolled in the course will still have to pay the $94 if they would like to take the exam.”
From the perspective of a junior in high school, this seems like an amazing opportunity to alleviate the financial stress that was previously related to taking an AP course. This reduced price equalized the playing field, allowing every student to have the same chance at getting the best education they possibly can in the four years they spend in high school.
When questioned on her opinion of the price reductions, Skylar Watson, a junior at REV who is taking three AP courses this year, said “I think it is really amazing and inclusive that the district has made the cost of the tests more affordable because it is really important that every student has the opportunity to take every course that is accessible to them.”
Although there have been overall extremely positive changes made this year, there is one topic that seems to create some controversy.
Delmonico said that RUSD has offered free PSAT exams in October for students in grades 8-11, and the SAT exams for seniors, since the 2017-21018 school year. The ability to take these exams for free can play a major role in students’ academic careers after high school, yielding many benefits. What doesn’t seem to be the most beneficial, though, is not allowing jurors to opt into taking the SAT during the October testing date.
For many juniors in high school, they are beginning to think about life after high school, whether that entails attending college, entering the workforce, or joining the military. For many students the SAT is a large part in their college decision process, and if the RUSD is focused on providing the best possible academic environment to set up students success after they graduate, then providing multiple free SAT exams throughout all of junior and senior year is the first big step.
If a student is enrolled in RUSD from eighth grade on, they will take the PSAT for free four times but only get two free SAT exams. Although the PSAT does provide an opportunity for some students to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program, overall an additional free SAT seems much more beneficial to the majority of the students enrolled in the district.
According to the National Merit Scholarship organization, “Of the 1.6 million entrants, some 50,000 with the highest PSAT/NMSQT® Selection Index scores (calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores) qualify for recognition in the National Merit® Scholarship Program.” Then, of those 50,000 students, only approximately 15,000 of those students become finalists.
Currently, the National Merit Scholarship Program does not allow entrances into the program from students who are not juniors. The organization stated that “although some schools encourage their sophomores to take the PSAT/NMSQT for guidance purposes, these students must take the test again when they are juniors to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program if they are spending the usual four years of study in grades 9 through 12.”
When asked about her thoughts on the opportunity to take the SAT as junior twice instead of once, Tejazvi Gopalan, a sophomore at REV said, “ I think it would be great to get some experience with the actual SAT test because then I would be able to take the whole test including the essay to get a better understanding of the test”. She then said “ it would also help to be fully prepared going into senior year with one more SAT under your belt so that you can learn and improve.”
Students are more eager than ever to focus on their future and to prepare themselves for college or career. Therefore, students should be able to take the PSAT/NMSQT exam their sophomore year and have a chance to qualify for the program. Then junior year, the majority of students who did not qualify can then opt to take the SAT instead on the October testing date. The district could offer the opportunity for juniors to take the PSAT/NMSQT test again if they are interested.
If this new process of SAT and PSAT testing was put in place, it could satisfy the needs of a large population of high school students in the district. It would eliminate one additional preliminary SAT exam for students, giving them more opportunities to increase their score, which could have drastic effects on their college admissions experience.
Ultimately, there are always going to be different perspectives and therefore conflicting opinions when it comes to these topics. There are thousands of high school students currently enrolled in RUSD schools that spend months putting in hard work into AP level courses and studying hard for the SAT in order to have a brighter future. These students have strong opinions about their education system and the district should ensure that every student’s voice is heard when it comes to policies that directly affect them.