The College Board doesn’t care about you

By Adri Pray, Editor-at-large

It’s time to stop pretending like there’s anything “advanced” about Advanced Placement classes. Let’s leave the College Board in the past where it belongs.

Right after Florida’s Department of Education, spearheaded by Gov. Ron DeSantis, rejected AP African American Studies on Jan. 27 on the basis that course materials violate state law, the College Board released a revised framework for the class on Feb. 1.

All offered as “sample projects,” the origins and mission of the Black Lives Matter movement, Black queer studies, reparations as a topic, the history of Black incarceration, and Black feminism, were originally proposed as stand-alone lessons. Prominent Black works were cut from the course, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” and Michelle Alexanders’ “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” as well as Black women writers like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker.

“While the leaked and much discussed pilot framework experimented in the assignment of secondary or derivative sources—a privilege of a pilot phase—the fact is that no AP courses, not one, not ever, has required a list of secondary sources in their frameworks,” the College Board said in response to criticism from The New York Times, stating that the article “mischaracterized” the motives behind altering the course. “The Times ignores this fact, and their reckless mischaracterization of our processes and motives is deeply damaging to the promise of this course and the millions of lives it could enlighten and enrich.”

Even though the organization refutes any claims that the timing was intentional or meant to conform to conservative politics, the new curriculum grossly oversimplifies America’s racist history—essentially robbing all students restricted from taking college-prep level African American studies their right to a racially comprehensive education.

The College Board was afraid of losing thousands of dollars from Floridian students interested in, but unable to, take AP African American Studies, and felt the need to restructure their curriculum. It’s no surprise that the College Board caved to DeSantis’s political pressure and changed its AP African American Studies curriculum, continuing to uphold an inaccessible education system driven by profit.

However, this execution has lost the very students the course is designed for. Conforming to DeSantis’ “anti-woke” laws reveals a College Board that prioritizes profit over a constructive education. 

This isn’t the first time the College Board has put its bottom line over students. Due to the threat of the pandemic, the ACT canceled its December 2020 and February 2021 international tests, and the College Board’s SAT canceled its March 2020 make-up and May 2020 exams. 

But the College Board did not postpone or cancel the Advanced Placement tests, opting instead to survey 18,000 students signed up for at least one 2020 exam. 91 percent of students reportedly wanted to take their tests, causing a complete overhaul of the original testing system. Students around the world had to complete the tests in short answer form, in less than an hour, and in complete synchronicity with whatever time the College Board decided on to restrict cheating. 

In my junior year of high school, I was among nearly 1.5 million students who took at least one AP exam in 2020. I paid $95 for each of my three tests for a 45-minute online exam that was completely unregulated and poorly executed. Students domestically and internationally cited online trouble and scheduling concerns that the College Board only combated with rescheduling and score cancellations.

I want to talk to the individual who decided 18,000 students was a good frame of reference for 1.5 million. Maybe I missed an email, maybe I wasn’t consulted at all. Regardless of the laughable sample size, this decision drew harsh backlash from students unable to access stable internet connections, those who did not meet the requirements for a test waiver, or those whose financial situation changed due to the pandemic. At the time, College Board took advantage of every student around the world whose education was cut short by three months.

The way the College Board handled AP tests in 2020 was inappropriate and exploitative. Both of these instances tarnish the AP testing program’s credibility as an educational body and have proven the College Board’s services to be an inaccessible and unreliable way to gain college credit. School administrators should seriously reevaluate how AP tests are used in schools.

AP exams are marketed as a way to earn college credit for a fraction of the cost, though several other options are available that allow high school students to earn almost-always equally transferable credit. The International Baccalaureate program mimics the AP program and isn’t a recommended supplement, though it trains students to view problems in a global lens while charging $119 for each test. In 2020, IB tests were canceled to prioritize students’ health and wellbeing—another stark difference between the two.

Dual enrollment programs should be promoted in place of the College Board. In 2019, community colleges and other accredited institutions enrolled one-third of high school students into its programs, providing unique advantages like a physical college-level learning environment and saving students’ money. Some colleges don’t take AP test scores under 3’s, others don’t take scores under 4’s. Dual enrollment credit, especially general education classes, are almost guaranteed to transfer to a student’s next institution—a reliability AP credits cannot offer.

Not only are we continuing to uphold an outdated system, but the system that has proven time and time again to not care for its students and their education. There is much to criticize about a national educational institution that prioritizes their own economic prosperity over amplifying historical and contemporary Black perspectives, and choosing to remove oneself from its bullshit is the first step in taking hold of one’s education.