Tenth-graders at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, Md., take AP Computer Science Principles. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The College Board, which owns the influential Advanced Placement program, is adding new fees to AP testing and asking students taking the tests to sign up months earlier. Some college admissions counselors say the changes could hurt them and their students.

The board also is offering new resources for teachers and students to help them do well on AP exams, which can lead to college credit, spokesman Zachary Goldberg said. Those include access to a bank of former AP test questions “to create customized practice tests, unit guides that describe the skills and topics covered in each exam, and detailed dashboards that provide students, parents, and educators with information on student progress,” he wrote in an email.

He added that a new registration system will reduce paperwork and cut AP testing time by 45 minutes per exam, most of which are about three hours. The changes in the AP program, which earns millions of dollars annually for the College Board, were made after a pilot program involving 180,000 students over more than 800 schools showed an increase in test participation among students, particularly students from low-income families.

“It’s not about profit,” Goldberg said in an email. “In reality, our goal is to ensure that all AP students have equal access to the best resources to help them earn college credit. The annual cost to develop and maintain these new resources, and the cost to develop and implement the fall registration process, actually reduce, rather than expand, the AP Program’s operating income for the foreseeable future.”

Goldberg did not say how much money the College Board expected to lose as a result of the overhaul.

Starting in the 2019-2020 school year, students will be required to sign up by Nov. 15 in the year before they take the spring exam if they don’t want to incur a late fee, the College Board said. Previously, students signed up for AP tests not long before they took the exam, but Goldberg said many schools have been independently moving to fall registration. The College Board is following suit — and adding a late fee.

The cost of each test will remain the same at $94, but a late fee of $40 will be charged if registration occurs between Nov. 16 and March 13. Students will be charged an additional $40 if they do not take an exam after signing up. The board is eliminating the $40 fee schools have paid for makeup tests because of conflicts with athletic or academic events.

Some counselors said students and counselors could be negatively affected, and that giving educators access to former AP test questions could lead to more test prep in classes and a focus on passing exams rather than on learning.

Scott White, interim guidance director at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., blasted the College Board in an email on a discussion group of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, saying:

Asking us to sign students up so early and charging exorbitant fees for anyone who did not do so is usury. The process benefits no one but the College Board and happens for one and only one reason: they have a monopoly and are acting like it. 

We need to take back what serves students and schools, not corporations and businesses. The new College Board AP sign-up policy pushes kids too hard and too soon to make decisions. It creates further financial burdens on students and schools which help no one, not one student, not one school.

Adam Lindley, a guidance counselor at St. Francis High School in Wheaton, Ill., said in an email he is “very concerned” the changes will “cause more financial and emotional stress for my students, especially seniors.”

Seniors, he added, will be asked to sign up for a course before they know if the colleges they will attend grant credit for AP test scores. An AP coordinator at his school, Lindley said it would be a burden on counselors working with seniors to get college admissions done early in the academic year.

The AP program, created to offer college-level courses in high school that allow students to earn college credit if they score high enough on a course-ending test, is in 16,000 public and private schools nationwide. In the public sector, it is in schools that educate 89 percent of high school students. In 2018, 608,707 students took AP tests in a variety of courses.

The program was concentrated in white-majority schools before the 1990s, when the board pushed to expand it to offer more challenging material to more students, particularly those who traditionally did not have access.

Many colleges give credit for some AP courses if a student scores high enough on the exam, which is graded on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the highest. Some critics of the AP program say many students are unprepared to take these classes but are pushed into them to boost a school’s prestige.

The program brings in tens of millions of dollars to the College Board, a nonprofit member association that operates largely as a business. Its 2016 tax return showed about $1 billion in revenue, and its president, David Coleman, earned $1.45 million that year, plus $255,000 in additional income from the organization or related ones.

The changes to Advanced Placement were made after the pilot program led to significant increase in exam participation, especially among students from low-income families.

Meg Shadid, an AP World History and AP Economics teacher at Edmond Santa Fe High School in New Mexico, was part of the pilot program and supports the change in registration deadline. She said more of her students scored a 3 or higher during the pilot year, and that students benefit from going into the course in the fall knowing they will take the test.

“Fall registration has been a great way to build a culture in AP where everyone was on board and we used the year to prepare for the exam at the end of the year, it was more of an all hands on deck type of mentality,” she wrote in an email. “There was an expectation, a common goal of passing the AP test that we were all working together to accomplish throughout the school year. I think this allowed for my students to grow in their confidence, confidence which they may not have otherwise had.”

Shadid said she did not change the way she taught the course but “was able to give ‘short’ practice exams weekly, or biweekly.”

“Oftentimes I give students three practice AP questions . . . after teaching a lesson,” she said. “It then allowed them to combine the content they had just learned with the skills they would need for success on the exam. I also use these practice exams as group assignments and allow students to work through these thinking skills together.”