Social Studies

Arkansas Says AP African American Studies No Longer Counts for High School Credit

By Ileana Najarro — August 14, 2023 | Updated: August 18, 2023 | Updated: August 15, 2023 5 min read
Photo of girl reading superimposed with Arkansas state flag.
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Updated: The six Arkansas schools that planned to offer an Advanced Placement course on African American studies say they will continue to do so despite the state saying the class won’t count toward a student’s graduation credit. Read more here.
Updated: This story has been updated with comment from the Little Rock School District.

The College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies course won’t count for credit toward high school graduation in Arkansas, according to that state’s department of education.

The decision to remove the course from the state’s vetted course offerings—initially reported over the weekend, just before the start of the school year—has left schools in Arkansas hoping to participate in the second pilot year of the course with questions on how to proceed.

The College Board said six schools in Arkansas were expected to offer the course this year, including Little Rock Central High School, which is covered in the course with discussion of the Little Rock Nine and their role in school desegregation efforts.

“On this first day of school, we share in their surprise, confusion, and disappointment at this new guidance that the course won’t count toward graduation credits or weighted the same as other AP courses offered in the state,” the College Board said.

Earlier this year, AP African American Studies faced a tumultuous rollout when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, now a Republican presidential candidate, banned the pilot course in January, claiming it defied state law that restricts how topics of race can be taught in K-12 schools. Scholars then criticized an edited course framework the College Board published in February.

In response to all this, leaders within the College Board said they sought out additional revisions this summer in time for the second pilot run, in which more than 700 schools across the country would participate.

The decision in Arkansas against allowing the course to count as credit toward high school graduation also got its start in January. That’s when Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders ordered a review of policies that “promote teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies,” such as critical race theory. That review included the AP African American Studies course, which was piloted in two local schools last year, Little Rock Central High School and The Academies at Jonesboro High School.

“The AP African American Studies pilot course is not a history course and is a pilot that is still undergoing major revisions,” the Arkansas state education agency said in an email to Education Week. “Arkansas law contains provisions regarding prohibited topics. Without clarity, we cannot approve a pilot that may unintentionally put a teacher at risk of violating Arkansas law.”

The issue of course credit

The Arkansas education department went on to say that the pilot course did not offer an end of year exam last year and “the course may not articulate into college credit.”

It added that the pilot may not meet graduation requirements and “does not comply with the rules of the department’s AP program like other vetted courses, such as AP European History, United States History, and World History: Modern.”

“The department encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination,” the agency said in its statement.

The College Board said it submitted the AP African American course in 2022 for course code approval in Arkansas, and the state approved it. The nonprofit then informed the state of the framework released on Feb. 1.

“Otherwise we have had no formal communications with the state and were not notified of this change in advance,” it said in an email.

It added that the College Board “is committed to providing an unflinching encounter with the facts of African American history and culture, and rejects the notion that the AP African American Studies course is indoctrination in any form.”

More than 200 colleges and universities nationally have already signed on to provide college credit for a passing grade on the exam, including the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the College Board said.

“Early credit support for the pilot course has surpassed expectations, and it is our strong expectation that many more colleges will provide credit when an official review is completed in the spring,” it added.

What comes next

The Arkansas agency did not respond to a question about why the decision over high school credit for AP African American Studies came so close to the school year’s start.

Kim Wilbanks, superintendent of Jonesboro Public Schools in Arkansas, where the course was piloted last year, said in an email on Monday, when asked whether schools in the district would offer the pilot course this year, that “we are still awaiting information from the [Division of Elementary and Secondary Education] and have made no decisions.”

Nancy Rousseau, principal of Little Rock Central High School, said in a statement Monday evening that “over this past weekend, we received word that the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) will only offer local credit for the course. Since that time, our superintendent, Dr. Jermall Wright, has been in direct communication with officials from the ADE to explore options that will allow our students to fully benefit from this course despite ADE’s decision.”

“At this time, we are weighing the options provided to us with the staff at Central High School and will decide the next steps within 24-48 hours,” she added. “Rest assured, we are actively working to ensure that our students continue to receive a well-rounded education that includes diverse perspectives and meaningful learning opportunities.”

In February, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, also called for a review of the course in his state. The Virginia Department of Education did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Monday.

In North Dakota, before a school district may offer the AP African American Studies course, it would have to review the course materials to see whether they conflict with North Dakota’s law and rules that restrict how topics such as critical race theory can be taught, as well as check whether course materials align with state standards, said a spokesperson for the state’s department of public instruction.

As of Monday no school district in the state has asked to offer the AP pilot, the spokesperson added.

However, in Texas, which is among the 18 states—including Virginia, Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas—that have imposed bans or restrictions on teaching topics of race, a select number of districts will pilot the AP African American Studies course this school year, a spokesperson for the state education agency said.

In Florida, the state moved to create new K-12 African American history standards, which drew national criticism over the standards’ depictions of slavery and massacres of African Americans.

Arkansas offers its own African American History course as a high school social studies elective and the state education agency said it is “working with districts regarding an honors version of this course so students can benefit from a rigorous experience.”

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