Some Iowa Students Face Disparities In Access To AP Classes

May 23, 2018

Thousands of Iowa high schoolers wrapped up rigorous Advanced Placement exams this month, in the hopes of earning college credit. But some students don’t have access to the in-class instruction that can help them pass their APs and test out of university requirements.

Credit Thomas Favre-Bulle

Forty-seven percent of Iowa school districts don’t offer on-site AP classes, according to the state Department of Education. Even for those that do, course availability can vary widely. A student in Iowa City can choose from more than 20 AP classes, while other districts offer just a handful.

Diane Pratt facilitates the Gifted Program at the Fort Dodge Community Schools. She said students in smaller or more rural districts are at a disadvantage.

“When we talk about offering good education for everyone in Iowa...there are huge discrepancies in the opportunities our rural kids have as opposed to kids that are in a big city,” Pratt said.

Pratt said some districts struggle to find the resources to hire AP teachers, let alone pay for the extra textbooks, lab equipment, training and certification that goes along with the courses.

“When I've talked to my colleagues around the state in some of the rural districts, there might be just one social studies teacher for instance, for all four high school grade levels," Pratt said. "So he has to teach government, and he has to teach history and he has to teach civics or whatever the other required classes are for all those students. And he really doesn’t have an extra class period.”

Other districts struggle to justify the expenses if only a handful of students show interest. Even then, not all districts can pay the $94 the College Board charges students to take each exam, passing those costs on to students and their families.

"There are huge discrepancies in the opportunities our rural kids have as opposed to kids that are in a big city." - Diane Pratt, Fort Dodge Community Schools

Without access to quality in-class instruction, students may be missing out on the chance to earn thousands of dollars in college credit. The University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, along with schools across the country, award students with credit hours if they score high enough on certain AP exams.

In this way, high-performing students can bypass common prerequisite courses and potentially earn their degrees in fewer semesters. A student who performs well on just three common AP courses (AP Biology, AP English Language and AP U.S. History) can earn 13 credit hours from ISU, worth approximately $4,043.

While many schools don't offer on-site instruction, students across the state can enroll in online AP classes through the University of Iowa's Belin-Blank Center. Pratt said this virtual access is a great opportunity for students, but they don't offer the same rigor and engagement as the in-person experience. 

After years of letting its AP program lapse, Pratt says Fort Dodge plans to offer three on-site AP courses during the 2018-2019 school year. She said that "seat-time" is a valuable opportunity for the districts "high-achievers" who are on track to attend four-year colleges.