The College Board’s Problematic Changes to AP World

In whittling it down to a relatively minuscule phase of humanity’s existence, critics like DoAmaral argue, the College Board is effectively threatening to deprive kids’ worldviews of the insight that can be drawn from the thousands of years of human experience that predated the era of Euro and Anglo dominance. “In a world that is fueled by quick reactions on social media, biased news (in all directions) and people responding on passion rather than facts, AP World History is needed more than ever,” said George, the Michigan teacher. Students, he said, would benefit from understanding the history of the world’s populations before Europeans’ so-called “discovery” of their lands—that those populations’ narratives began far before they were exploited and depleted by colonial powers.

In response to the backlash, Packer announced last Thursday that while the College Board still intends to narrow the exam’s scope, it will consult with experts in considering “a coherent inclusion of essential concepts from period 3.” The College Board will report on its game plan in mid-July. Some observers applaud the attempt at compromise: The George Mason University provost and history professor Peter Stearns, for example, in a blog post Tuesday commended the College Board for responding with “constructive flexibility” by making room “for a real unit on key developments in the centuries before 1450.”

Still, teachers and students told me that while they appreciate the gesture, Packer’s reassurance is too vague—and his emphasis on essential concepts too simplistic—to make them optimistic that students will still learn the deeper historical roots of the modern world. As Alexander Ledford, an AP World History teacher in Florida, wrote to me, “it is not the point of this class to delve deeply into any one history, but to show how the common history of the world came about.”

Meanwhile, critics of the change aren’t convinced that relegating early world history to the pre-AP course will do much to preserve that instruction, in part because the College Board will charge schools an additional, possibly cost-prohibitive fee to offer the pre-AP course and in part because that intro class won’t be a prerequisite for the regular AP course nor come with a high-stakes—and valuable—exam. Because the prospect of a resume-boosting high test score and the concomitant college credit is a major incentive for taking AP World, fewer students may seek out the pre-AP course.

And as George, the Michigan teacher, points out, the exclusion of pre-1450 C.E. material from the AP exam could discourage even the most dedicated teachers from prioritizing that material in class. “How can we allocate the amount of time that Periods 1-3 require if it will not be tested?” he asked. “We can’t.”