Social Studies

AP World History Rewrite Draws Criticism From Teachers and Students

By Brenda Iasevoli — June 12, 2018 3 min read
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High school history teachers are fighting back against changes to Advanced Placement World History that would eliminate content on pre-colonial Africa, Asia, Americas, and the Middle East. The dispute between teachers and the College Board, the group that oversees the AP program, was first reported in Politico.

This spring, the College Board announced changes to the test in response to teachers who complained of having to cram too much content into a short amount of time.

“The current AP World History course and exam cover 10,000 years of history across all seven continents,” reads the explanation on the College Board website. “No other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year. AP World History teachers have told us over the years that the scope of content is simply too broad, and that they often need to sacrifice depth to cover it all.”

So beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, AP World History will test content from 1450, the expansion of European power, through the present time. Earlier history will be covered in an untested pre-AP course.

At an open forum in Salt Lake City, Utah, AP history teacher Amanda DoAmaral argued in a videotaped exchange with Trevor Packer, senior vice president of advanced placement and instruction at the College Board, that if the content is not tested, teachers won’t teach it. That will hurt her “black and brown students.”

“Their histories don’t start at slavery,” she said to applause. “Their histories don’t start at colonization. I just feel like you’re another person of authority telling my students that they don’t matter and you need to take responsibility for that.”

Packer can be heard off-screen saying: “And you need to take responsibility for assigning me a position that is not accurate. [The content] is so important that it should not be rushed over.” (A similar debate arose recently in Bridgeport, Conn., over a high school textbook for a new African-American history course. The textbook did not cover the era before slavery.)

When Packer asked DoAmaral why she didn’t just teach the new pre-AP course covering the early history, she argued that schools couldn’t afford it. “They don’t have money for pencils, dude,” she said. “They will not pay for a pre-AP class.”

Starting in fall 2019, schools will pay between $1,200 and $6,500 for each pre-AP course, depending on the number of students and courses taught. Discounts are available to schools that teach three or more AP courses.

A high school student’s petition to stop the revision of AP World History has garnered more than 5,000 signatures. “The class is demanding on students, but is also one of the most rewarding, life changing classes I’ve ever had the privilege to take,” wrote the petition’s author, Dylan Black of Tinton Falls, N.J.

The pushback appears to have worked to some extent. Packer announced on Twitter that the College Board will consider reinstating some of the early history content that was cut from the AP course, but still shrink the amount of material that will be tested. He said the College Board will first seek input from teachers and professors on the World History development committee and then announce a decision by mid-July.

Packer’s change of heart came after he received “particularly balanced, thoughtful, and productive suggestions” from teachers who either sent emails or talked with him at the end of the open forum.

This isn’t the first time changes to an AP course have caused a stir. In 2015, a rewrite of the framework for AP U.S. History gave rise to critics who said it emphasized negative aspects of the nation’s history and downplayed “American exceptionalism.” The College Board responded with a revised framework that didn’t please all critics, though historians called the changes “evenhanded.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.