Bridging a gap HCISD addresses AP exam woes

Concerns are growing among Hays CISD leaders over the disparity between the number of Hays and Lehman students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams in 2019.

Those concerns highlight an issue trustees said they’ve tried to address for years.

On April 22, Hays CISD trustees unanimously approved a $138,890 expenditure for College Board AP exams. However, trustees voiced worries over the majority of that money funding AP exams for Hays High students.

According to the agenda packet, Hays High is expected to administer 1,137 AP exams in May, while Lehman will administer around 497. Hays CISD will spend $96,645 to administer exams for Hays High students, while $42,245 will be spent for Lehman High.

“…When I look at these numbers there is such disparity and I want to know what we’re doing to get more students involved with that on this (Lehman) campus,” said trustee Will McManus at the April 15 workshop. 

President Meredith Keller said it’s imperative the district try and close the gap between the new campuses. Keller proposed that the district might need to add counselors at Lehman in order to better understand the students and their families as a means to close the gap. 

“The difference between the number of students who participate in the AP program at Lehman in comparison to Hays is larger than we’ve ever had it,” Keller said. “That gap is huge.”

But David Abdelmaseih, an AP U.S. History teacher at Lehman High, didn’t categorize the disparity as a crisis, and pointed to other factors that he felt contributed to the low numbers at Lehman. 

Abdelmaseih said Lehman has historically had a higher number of disadvantaged socioeconomic students than at Hays, which could deter Lehman students from paying for the exams. It might not be a question of intellect, but financial ability. 

In 2018, Hays CISD enacted a policy change that no longer required students taking AP courses to take AP exams. The change was done due to state and federal subsidy cuts to AP test funding, which had been used to pay for all students in AP courses to take the exam for free, the Hays Free Press reported.

Last year, students on the free and reduced lunch program paid $15 per exam, while students who were not part of that program paid $76 per test.

“If I know my family can’t afford these exams, I’m less likely to take them,” Abdelmaseih said. “But we can certainly do a better job at informing students of the financial options on the table for them to take the exams.” 

Additionally, HCISD students have a diverse pool of options for higher level course work. Dual credit courses, for example, allow students to receive college credit and a challenging workload for less of a financial commitment. 

Abdelmaseih said the campus’ staff would like to see more students enrolled in AP courses, but understands there are other implications that could deter a student from doing so. 

“We have students who have to work after school jobs to help put food on the table,” Abdelmaseih said. “If I need a job to support my family, I can’t take the exams. And that’s a story that simply doesn’t get told.” 

At the beginning of the school year, Lehman staff talked about how they could raise the number of students enrolled in AP courses. Regardless of outside circumstances, the goal is to still provide these students with that opportunity, Abdelmaseih said. 

“(AP) is an avenue that a student can take if they want to challenge themselves academically,” Abdelmaseih said. “We understand the benefit these courses are for a student. We aren’t looking at it as a comparison to the other schools, but how we can bring those numbers up for the sake of our students.” 

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