The highlights of the College Board’s argument, and our collective responses, are as follows:
The scope of the course is too large.
Our response: The current timeframe for the AP World course stretches from about 8,000 BCE to the present. The new scope only encompasses 1450 CE to the present, or in other words, about the last 600 years. The College Board argues that teachers are so overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the content, that they cannot possibly have the necessary time to teach the content, teach the necessary historical thinking skills, teach the writing skills necessary to write the essays on the AP Exam and review for the exam. While this is a lot of work, the mission of a world history teacher is not to delve deeply into the history of any one particular region, but to illuminate the trends and patterns that drive human history. The framework of the course even exemplifies this mission - instead of teaching every event in human history, the key concepts of AP World History (what the College Board calls the curriculum for the course) names trends and patterns with illustrative examples of those trends and patterns. Teachers are not expected to teach everything, but one or two examples that best reflect the trends and patterns.
The other AP history courses - AP United States History and AP European History - do not cover the same scope as AP World History, but do not lack for content. In other words, both AP US and European Histories cover the same time in a school year (typically one year) but delve much deeper into the histories of their respective regions. World history’s mission is not deeper than US or European histories, but it is a different mission altogether.
Tangentially, cutting the historical period covered by AP World History may result in some districts cutting the actual contact time teachers have with their students. If the content is going to be cut in half, administrators may believe that teachers need only one semester to teach the course, rather than two, which defeats the purpose of the cut made by the College Board in the first place.
Teachers asked for this particular change in an annual College Board survey
Our response: While many teachers were surveyed, the College Board refuses to share the data that drove this change. Anecdotal evidence suggests that surveyed teachers were overwhelmed with the content of the course, but did not ask for such Draconian measures. The Key Concepts themselves may be too detailed, but the scope of the Key Concepts was never questioned. World history teachers want to teach a long history, but not necessarily a deep history. A survey that the Save AP World History group conducted, with over 800 teacher respondents is clear: AP World History teachers want to analyze more of the human story rather than less. The more recent history is built up on the earlier; we need the context of the past to make the more modern history make sense. To put this yet another way, the College Board used a chainsaw to cut the Key Concepts, when a scalpel is what we needed.
The College Board’s official position is to promote a two-year sequence for AP World History. The content being removed from the AP World course will now be covered in a separate course entitled, “Pre-AP World History and Geography”.
Our response: This offers students a chance to engage with the content that would be cut and provide students with two years to cover the entirety of world history, instead of the one year that students have now. However, for a school to offer this second year of world history, a school must pay between $600 and $6500, depending on the enrollment in the course and the overall size of the school. For many schools, the price for the course alone is prohibitive, let alone costs for additional teachers, supplies and other associated elements. This is also taking place in an era in which STEM courses are a priority for most school districts, to the detriment of social sciences. Put simply, most schools will be unable to follow the College Board’s recommendation, and if they can, it will not be for several years.
Despite the costs, some schools will buy the pre-AP course from the College Board. This will set up a two-tiered system of AP World History, in which some students will receive two years of College Board approved instruction, that provides needed context and content knowledge about world history, and other will receive only one year of instruction, without the necessary background information.
This will inevitably ensure that those students who receive two years of world history instruction will perform better, on average, than those that receive only one.
A pre-AP World History course will also be in direct competition with AP Human Geography, as both courses would be offered, predominately, to freshmen. While Trevor Packer argued quite eloquently that the College Board, as a non-profit institution, is not interested in financial gain, a pre-AP World History course would be guaranteed money for the College Board, while AP Human Geography relies on students paying for the exam.
Students do poorly on the AP Exam in areas that are slated to be cut from the AP World History course
While not providing teachers with specific data, Trevor Packer claimed that, across the exam, students did the worst on the content that is going to be cut. This is most likely true, teachers and students approach this course chronologically, which means that the content slated to be cut is the material that teachers and students analyzed the furthest from the AP exam. The more recent material, from 1450 CE onward, is more fresh in students’ memories.
Additionally, Trevor Packer argued that the Short Answer Question about China before 1450 on the 2017 AP Exam was the lowest scoring Short Answer Question ever, highlighting the fact that students are not adequately prepared for the exam.
This is an example of cherry picking data: Short Answer Questions were introduced on the 2017 exam and many teachers were unprepared or under-prepared for these types of questions, which leads to unprepared or under-prepared students. At least 3 years of data would be necessary to illustrate a performance pattern on these types of questions, making Packer’s statement about them premature at this stage.
Based on teacher concerns, students are now given choices on which Short Answer Question to answer, meaning that students can choose the questions they are most prepared for. However, given that the decision to cut the first half of the content has been made without seeing the results of the 2018 exam, teachers, students and the College Board itself does not know if students are adequately prepared for pre-1450 questions, when students are given a choice on which Short Answer Question to answer.
Colleges are not giving course credit for the entirety of what AP World History teaches
Our response: According to the College Board, colleges are only giving credit for half of what AP World History teaches. Colleges only award students credit for passing the AP World History exam with the equivalent of a college course that covers world history from 1450-present and no colleges award credit with the equivalent of a college course that covers 8000 BCE to 1450.
This is inaccurate on at least two levels. First, this is far too generalized a statement, as there is no monolithic statement relating to all colleges. While some colleges do offer credit as the College Board describes, like the University of Florida, that is not true of all colleges. Some colleges offer the credits for two college classes, covering both semesters, such as those in the University of California system. Still others offer students an option, allowing students to choose either 8000 BCE to 1450 or 1450 to the present, like the University of Georgia. Some Universities, such as the University of Pittsburgh, offer a single World History course that has the same scope and scale as APWH had. Still others do not accept AP World History credit at all, like Harvard College.
Second, American history at the college level is often divided in a similar way as world history is divided, with the division occurring at the Civil War. There has been no discussion of starting AP US History at the Civil War as the College Board is proposing starting AP World History at 1450. Additionally, colleges are just as diverse in awarding credit for AP US History - the University of Florida offers the equivalent of two courses of American History with a score of 4 on the AP US History exam, the University of Georgia offers the equivalent of one course of American History with a 4 on the exam and the University of California system offers the equivalent of two courses in American History with a score of a 3 on the AP US History exam.
University Credit Policies for AP Histories
Students can earn 2 classes worth of credit at nearly half of the 30 largest public undergraduate institutions (14), 1 maximum at n half (15/30), and 0 at one (Purdue, which does not give college credit for any AP tests).
Public schools are more generous with AP Histories than the largest private schools. Of the 30 largest public schools, 29 award credit for AP scores. AP World History (APWH) can earn students two classes worth of credit at about half of these schools (14/29).
Of the largest undergrad institutions only two (Penn St and Texas A&M) give more credit for AP US History (APUSH).
Florida schools, five of the thirty largest, give more credit for AP European History (APEH) and APUSH for a 4 or 5, but not for a 4 or 5 on the APWH exam. This suggests the issue is about perceived rigor not scope of the content on the AP Exam, especially since AP Euro (more likely to correspond to one course) earns two classes of credit.
Outside of Florida, none of what the CB has said about APWH is not also true of APUSH according to these data.
In sum, a cursory glance at publicly available data, shows that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of students stand to lose credit hours and millions in tuition if these changes are enacted and universities adopt policies similar to the policies for their AP History courses.