The college board is desperate for relevancy. Since 1994 the SAT has changed several times after 50 years of stability to make it more attractive to increasingly critical urban population and schools. It was no longer good enough to see which students matched the standards of east coast prep schools, students had to be characterized based on a more diverse standard. It may have been wrong, but there was simply not enough money to be made catering to the east coast universities looking to rank the east coast preparatory graduates.
They are now trying to get funding through the AP exams. The thing you have to know is there are many federal grants that will fund low income students who want to take the AP Exam, money that goes directly to the that the College Board. So, unlike the 20th century when only the best of the best took the AP Exam. There is not enough money in it. There are not people profiting at all levels on students taking the AP exam. Universities, often private, often the best in the area, are training teachers to teach AP classes, mostly paid by federal grants or local tax dollars, a single class generating $10-20 thousand dollars for the university and college board, and there are often dozens of classes offered over the summer. There is the cost of AP books published by the CB as well as past tests which are not free.
The College Board is also free to punish or reward districts with awards and direct monetary compensation to various leaders, and these punishments come down to the school level. There are cases where district leaders have reprimanded people at the school level when the leaders did not get their expected rewards.
I am not judging what is going on right now. All I am saying is that AP classes are no longer used to filter the best students from the best classes. AP classes are now a way to introduce college level material to interested students. Students who do not want to be in these classes are generally not. Instead of filtering by ability, the filter is a desire to learn. This, of course, means that many students are not able to do the work and get frustrated. Most are not going to do well on the test. But if the class is well taught, these kids will be more ready for college, I would say even more so than a dual credit class.
The added benefit is that there is little grade inflation on the test. Students are allowed to fail, then given some information to reflect on that failure. As anyone who has been to college knows this is a critical skill. With the need for every student to graduate, even if they have never attended a class, the AP exam is one of the only way to provide that feedback to college bound students. It is unfortunate, but too many 18 year old adults still think that running home crying to mammy and daddy is a reasonable way to pass a class. The AP test does not finely rank students like so many other test do, and rewards students for their ability to find the questions they know best, and completely those to get enough points to meet their desired goal.