A Short Rant About AP/College Board

The year is coming to an end and my AP students are set to take their exam on Friday.  Most of them are just a bit anxious about the test.  I am ambivalent about all of it.  On the one hand I want them to do well, but at the same time it seems ludicrous to spend an entire year in preparation for one test.  I can talk and talk about various ways to asses individual progress, but in the end for most kids this test speaks volumes.  This increased tension about the AP test only adds to my growing frustration with College Board and the AP program in history.  Here is how College Board introduces the AP program on its website:

AP can change your life. Through college-level AP courses, you enter a universe of knowledge that might otherwise remain unexplored in high school; through AP Exams, you have the opportunity to earn credit or advanced standing at most of the nation’s colleges and universities.

This is my third year teaching the course and with every year I am more and more convinced that this is essentially a flawed curriculum.  Actually, there is no curriculum at all beyond an assessment of basic knowledge (much of it irrelevant) and critical writing skills, which a halfway decent teacher would be introducing anyway.  I end up giving up a wide range of lessons for a basic survey of American history from soup to nuts.  We have little time to explore any area in much detail.  It’s the kind of class that probably alienates more students from the study of history than it attracts. 

This year College Board is making all AP teachers submit curriculum materials for some type of accreditation.  It will no doubt take time and make for a depressing start to my summer vacation.  College Board is a private company and students pay $82 for each exam.  The idea that I have to submit materials for accreditation is absurd.  On a grading scale of 1 to 5 my students average a 4.2.   Yes, I’ve only taught the class for three years running, but my scores speak for themselves.  I am seriously considering sending in 6th grade level material to see what these boneheads do.  Do I really have to worry about not being accredited given the amount of money that students from this school spend on the AP program? 

I like to think of myself as a creative teacher.  I routinely take chances in the classroom with the goal of serious historical understanding as the ultimate target.  My AP classes always lag behind in this regard because I always have to worry about covering the required material.  Fewer and fewer colleges are giving AP credit and I am now counseling more and more of my good students to stay away from the AP course.  It’s one thing if they really want the AP credit, but if they have any interest in history I tell them to take my regular survey course. 

Oh I hope someone from College Board is reading this. 

4 responses... add one

Having graded the DBQs twice in my life, I have even more serious reservations than do you, Kevin. I’ve seen grading criteria change in mid-exam, and people quibble over the meaning and import of questions that should have been dummy-proofed long before. The grading opportunity was fun except for the actual grading: I declined to continue to go, despite several invitations to come back. The multiple choice questions scream for some understanding of what is to be tested, etc.; there’s actually very little conversation between AP people and college professors on what’s being taught at the intro survey level.

Brooks, — I’ve heard the similiar complaints. College Board has invited me to grade twice already and both times I refused. This idea of sitting around with a bunch of people that I don’t know grading essays from students that I don’t know sounds depressing as hell. There is something dirty about it all.

Kevin,
My school is moving to more of an “AP” approach, whatever that means. I’ve taught Honors classes til now and have felt pretty good about doing so. My 10th grade Honors class just spent 4 weeks(on the Block schedule…96 minutes per class) pouring through the 1848-1860 period. And they did a helluva good job “getting” it. I’m afraid if I’m forced to switch to the AP format, it will wholly standardize the class.
I agree that taking my time to help the College Board who are worried about the bottom line is ridiculous. My school has “super” english teacher who is teaching AP. But those same kids come to my class and can’t apply any of the supposed writing skills they’ve learned to history. I’m afraid that AP is just teaching format…and not thinking. The 6th grade curriculum guide is a great idea by the way.

Regards, Chris

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