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Sometime during the winter of 2013/2014, the College Board released AP United States History: Course and Exam Description, Including the Curriculum Framework, Effective Fall 2014—which I will refer to as “APUSH.” APUSH, the document, represents a complete overhaul of the Advanced Placement course in U. S History and the Committee that developed and assessed the curriculum clearly put a great deal of time and effort into creating this new approach. The members of the Commission that redesigned AP U.
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.
In other words: no disrespect for the College Board intended, but Dartmouth courses are better than AP exams. Haken Tell, professor of classics, was quoted in the , “The concern that we have is that increasingly, AP has been seen as equivalent to a college-level course, and it really isn't, in our opinion.” The Dartmouth decision occasioned a lot of commentary in the academic press.
Princeton and Columbia both allow students to receive academic credit for AP courses, but at least at Princeton, few students avail themselves of the option.
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.
A short list of such steps involving the College Board’s most famous test, the SAT, includes: I recounted some of this a few months ago when the College Board yet again revised the SAT. The College Board has been busy for a while compromising the quality of the Advanced Placement tests as well. A few colleges don’t award academic credit for AP courses but still allow students who scored well on the exams to “place out” of the comparable courses.
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.
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.