AUGUSTA  — If it wasn’t for a state program that allowed him to take rigorous online college courses in high school, Alexander Farkas said it’s unlikely he would have been accepted into the engineering program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Farkas, a senior at Cony High School in Augusta, urged lawmakers on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Wednesday to fund and reinstate AP4ALL, a state program that allows high-performing students to take advanced placement courses online when similar courses are not offered at their school.

The program, which costs about $150,000 a year, serves an estimated 400 students each year allowing them to take and in some cases earn credit for college-level courses. Many students in the program, like Farkas, take the courses in addition to their other high school classes, giving them the edge when it comes to the college selection process.

The Maine Department of Education announced this year that it would not continue the program in 2020 – a move that left many students and their families disappointed and discouraged.

Farkas told the committee he took online advanced placement courses in computer science, physics and Spanish because his school didn’t offer them. “Advanced placement courses shouldn’t just be limited to school districts that have the resources to provide them, or families who have the resources to pay thousands for private online classes,” Farkas said.

But Karen Kusiak, the DOE’s legislative liaison, told the committee the program was discontinued because it didn’t appear to be serving the students it was intended to. Kusiak said the program was meant for students in the most rural parts of Maine who had no access to advanced placement courses, but 87 percent of the participants came from schools with some advanced placement offerings.

She also said that in some years as few as 25 percent of the students enrolled in the program were able to score high enough on Advanced Placement exams to receive college credit for their work.

Kusiak noted that the Legislature already had reduced funding for other initiatives proposed by Education Commissioner Pender Makin, including additional funding to expand pre-K programs and other initiatives in the state’s next two-year budget now under deliberation at State House.

“It’s become more important than ever for us, and for you, to carefully prioritize programs and services that provide widespread access and that offer evidence of success,” Kusiak said.

Eva Farkas, Alexander Farkas’ sister and a senior in a pre-med program at Columbia University in New York City, said her love of learning was fueled in part by AP4ALL, even as she attended high school at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone.

“My school, which has received accolades for being the best in the state, could not provide an appropriate foreign language class for a student at my level my senior year,” Eva Farkas said. “AP4ALL could.” She said that high-level course in Spanish gave her the skills and the confidence she needed as she volunteered at the Safe Passage School in Guatemala, where she is returning this summer.

Eva Farkas also rebuffed a comparison between the success rate of the program with another that allows students to earn some college credit with the University of Maine System, known as a dual track program.

“Citing the relative number of credits awarded among the two programs as a proxy for the success for either program further worries me,” Eva Farkas told the committee. “I fear that Maine students may be rushed into an unproductive habit of credentialism that prioritizes credits earned, as opposed to learning, a love of learning and an intellectual skill set that will serve them throughout their lives.”

Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, said lawmakers and educators spend a lot of time focusing on students who have special needs.

“This is the other end of the spectrum, and I feel that we are going to shortchange those high-achievers,” Sampson said. “I have a big, big, big – huge, gigantic – problem with that.”

Rep. David McCrea, D-Fort Fairfield, a retired teacher, noted that even if the program only served 200 students it still would be relatively inexpensive at $750 per student, each year.

The bill will be the subject of a work session before the committee on Thursday.

 

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.