Students will no longer need to take an Advanced Placement test to get a higher grade for taking an AP class in San Diego Unified, after the school board voted narrowly to change its policy on Tuesday night. Instead, teens will get a higher grade simply for taking the class, which means that a B in an Advanced Placement class will count like an A in an ordinary class on their report cards.

Because schools will no longer pay for all students to take the test — a decision the school board made earlier this year to save nearly $700,000 in a budget crunch — school district staff said it would be legally dicey to keep requiring teens to take the test for a higher grade. (Read up more about the issue here.) But the debate proved sticky for the school board.

Board member Katherine Nakamura argued that the school district should keep paying for the exams, reversing its earlier decision so that no students would be dissuaded from taking the test, and keep giving students a grade boost for taking the tests. While students from poorer families can pay a reduced price for the test, having to pay could still turn some students away, Nakamura argued.

The idea behind requiring the exam was to ensure that all AP classes meet the same high standard, since students have to be ready for the exam. Katie Anderson, a parent who leads a school district committee on gifted education and AP classes, said it would ensure “academic integrity.”

“Dig deep and find the money and pay for this,” Nakamura argued. “It is more important than ever.”

But fellow board member John Lee Evans said that wasn’t a realistic option because the school board would need to find something else to cut if it wanted to keep paying for the exams. Board member John de Beck, in turn, argued that the school district should stop giving more credit for AP classes completely, since colleges could judge student transcripts for themselves.

And board member Shelia Jackson initially pushed to keep requiring students to take the exam — but to keep requiring them to pay for it, too. The school board deadlocked on the question until Jackson changed her mind and voted with Evans and board President Richard Barrera to stop requiring the tests for a higher grade.

“I don’t believe that not requiring the AP test means that it’s not going to be a rigorous class,” Barrera said.

— EMILY ALPERT

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