Social Studies

‘Roe v. Wade’ Won’t Be on Next Year’s AP Government Test

By Sarah Schwartz — August 04, 2022 4 min read
Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe in the 1973 court case, left, and her attorney Gloria Allred hold hands as they leave the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC., Wednesday, April 26, 1989.
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Questions about Roe v. Wade won’t be included on next year’s Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics exam, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the ruling in June.

The College Board, the organization that runs the AP program, announced the decision in a message to AP U.S. Government and Politics teachers in July. Roe has been a required case in the course framework since the 2018-19 school year.

In the message, the College Board explained that the choice to remove questions about Roe has to do with how the AP tests are created. The exams are written years in advance, so questions about Roe as a legal precedent slated for the 2023 test “are at risk of becoming inaccurate and confusing to students,” the message reads.

The College Board plans to evaluate whether and how Roe will be included in future exams and provide an update to teachers in the fall.

The organization’s decision is just one example of how the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not protect a right to abortion, will change the way that social studies and government teachers discuss certain constitutional issues. Teachers and curriculum writers will need to shape new lessons on the right to privacy—and on the way that the court uses precedent to inform its judgments.

“It’s such a big shift,” said Kerry Sautner, the chief learning officer at the National Constitution Center, which provides resources and lessons for teachers.

In government or social studies classes, Roe is typically taught as an example of precedent, Sautner said. But now that precedent has been overturned.

That’s also what happened with the AP course. As part of its framework for AP U.S. Government and Politics, released for the 2018-19 school year, the College Board named 15 Supreme Court cases that students must know to understand significant legal precedents. Questions about these cases are fair game for the AP test.

Roe was on that list—one of three cases included to illustrate how certain rights, like the right to privacy or the right to an attorney, have been “selectively incorporated by way of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause to prevent state infringement of basic liberties,” according to a statement from the College Board.

An opportunity to discuss constitutional interpretation

Allison Cohen, an AP government teacher at Langley High School in McLean, Va., said that she still plans to cover Roe and Dobbs in class, even if they won’t be on the AP test. But she understands the College Board’s decision.

“With something that’s this raw and new, I’m sympathetic to them not wanting to write questions that might be confusing to students a year from now,” she said.

It’s possible that not all AP teachers will take this route, though. State legislation restricting how teachers can discuss race, sex, and gender has put a spotlight on teachers who cover anything that could be deemed “controversial” in their classes. AP teachers in other social studies subjects have said they’re rethinking how they connect course content to current events. The College Board has maintained that none of its course standards run afoul of new state legislation.

Cohen, though, said that this new environment hasn’t changed the way she teaches about the Constitution and court cases.

She’s always talked with her students about the idea of constitutional originalism—meaning that the Constitution should be interpreted as fixed, having the same meaning that it did when written—vs. the idea of living constitutionalism, that interpretation of the document can change as circumstances and social attitudes do. She plans to use Dobbs and Roe to talk about these ideas this year.

And the cases are still relevant to the idea of precedent—they just raise new questions about when and why it’s appropriate to overturn precedent, and how that might affect other cases that were decided around a right to privacy, Cohen said.

“It really is about digging a little bit deeper into these fundamental questions of our constitutional democracy,” she said. “How do we go about determining what rights should be judicially recognized? How do we protect those rights? How should this document be interpreted in light of changes that have occurred over the centuries? And what is the proper vehicle to do that?”

Importantly, she wants students to come away from these discussions with the understanding that they can agree or disagree with Supreme Court decisions and that they can advocate for changes they want to see in the process or the outcomes—“that they are active players in this democratic republic,” Cohen said.

“The Supreme Court doesn’t provide the ‘right’ answer to a particular question. It produces finality—a final answer, or a final-for-now answer,” she said. “Students have this default ... respect for authority. And it’s kind of an opportunity to say, ‘No, no, no, maybe your arguments are better.’”

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Ileana Najarro, Staff Writer contributed to this article.

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