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In recent years, the College Board has taken numerous steps, large and small, meant to “expand access,” even if it means lowering standards. They are high school courses, each one of which is, as the College Board puts it, “modeled upon a comparable college course.” Many colleges award academic credit for doing well on an AP exam and allow students to skip over the “comparable” introductory courses.
Today, the membership association is made up of over 6,000 of the world’s leading educational institutions and is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education. history is given cursory treatment and some ideological themes are sounded rather loudly.
In its later days, the College Board has decided that its “mission” is not to advance standards but to assist students, and it has gone so far as to project back to 1900 the idea that its role was to “expand access.” That pretty clearly was not President Eliot’s idea. History (APUSH) Curriculum Framework. It is, in many respects, a dispiriting document. In view of the many, many faults in American K-12 education, should the College Board’s hapless revision of the Advanced Placement framework in American history occasion special concern? There are bigger problems, but this is one of those small problems that signifies larger things. Advanced Placement courses occupy a significant place in the ecology of American education.
This “preliminary report” is, as the label indicates, a first step.
The changes in the course and in the exam were several years in the making and involved contributions from a thirteen-member “AP U. History Redesign Commission” and a nine-member “AP U. History Curriculum Development and Assessment Committee.” Because Advanced Placement courses and exams play a very significant role in American higher education, I decided as president of the National Association of Scholars to take a close look at the new course, exam, and “curriculum framework.” My colleagues and I at NAS are concerned about the quality of preparation for college that American high school students receive; we are especially concerned about the preparation received by students who attend the nation’s best-regarded colleges and universities; and we have a particular interest in the standards set in the study of U. History, which is one of the foundations for American citizenship.
The rate of students who “pass” the exams varies from about 55 to 70 percent by subject, with some outliers, such as Advanced Placement Chinese, where more than 94 percent of the exam takers received a 3 or better in 2014. So a lot of the less talented students who have flooded into the AP courses do not end up either winning college credit or placing out of required courses.
In Computer Science, the figure was 67.6 percent; Calculus AB, 57.7 percent; English Literature and Composition, 56.0 percent; and U. Most of those who fail the AP exams probably pass the high school course, so one possible response is, “Why does it matter? The AP courses themselves are inevitably diluted by the presence of many students—roughly half the class—who are not suited for an advanced course.
When the President of Lafayette College objected that he “would not be told by any Board whom to admit and not to admit,” Eliot responded with disdain: The President of Lafayette College has misunderstood . No one proposes to deprive Lafayette College of that privilege.” The story is recounted in the 1950 official history of the College Board and was retold in Frederick Rudolph’s invaluable 1962 book, . Those dates are important because they point back to a time when the College Board knew perfectly well what its purpose was. Compare that to what the College Board today says about itself and its past: The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity.
Founded in 1900, the College Board was created to expand access to higher education.
That quarter of the graduating class that took AP courses, however, isn’t the whole story.
The figure contains within it a smaller subset—perhaps about 400,000 students—whose skills roughly match the ostensible level of the courses, and a still smaller subset who are truly talented.