By JEFF AMY
JACKSON – The U.S. Department of Education will give Mississippi nearly $55,000 to help pay the costs of low-income high school students taking Advanced Placement and other exams that could help them earn college credit after accelerated high school classes.
The money comes at a time when the number of Mississippi students taking advanced placement tests has fallen for two years in a row. College Board figures show that 6,069 students, from public, private and home schools, took AP exams in 2013. That’s down more than 4 percent from a peak of 6,350 in 2011.
The federal award announced Tuesday was part of $28 million that the agency announced for a total of 40 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement that the money will help high schools offer tougher courses and help students learn the skills they need to prepare for college.
AP exams cost $89 apiece without any aid. The federal money is expected to pay all but $18 of the cost of each advanced placement test taken by low-income students.
States may opt to require students to pay a portion of the costs. Current aid had lowered the price per exam to $55 per low-income student in Mississippi.
Besides AP tests, the money will also cover students who take other exams that could earn them college credit, including International Baccalaureate exams and Cambridge International exams. While AP is more common in Mississippi, a few schools offer the other exams.
State Superintendent Carey Wright has pushed for more students to take advanced courses and get college credit as part of her overall goals for the state. A spokeswoman for Wright did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The total number of AP courses offered by Mississippi public schools has risen by nearly 45 percent to a total of 796 from 2008 to 2013. But that increase is accounted for by fewer than 20 of 147 districts. DeSoto County alone added 77 AP courses, while Jackson city schools added 40.
More than half of Mississippi’s 147 public school districts either offered no AP courses in 2013 or had cut offerings since 2008, according to state Department of Education figures. Some superintendents say budget pressure has led them to limit advanced classes.
College Board figures confirm those trends. In 2008, students from 189 Mississippi schools took AP exams. That number fell by more than 20 percent to 150 schools in 2013.