This is another little oddity I came across on the College Board website. While poking around, trying to find information about the connection between the College Board and The Atlantic in an attempt to explain why the latter was publishing false information about the SAT, I ended up on the AP US History (APUSH) professional development page – specifically the section devoted to teaching using historical documents to teach “close reading” and analytical writing.
I’d heard about the controversy surrounding the redesigned AP test, and I was curious just what the College Board was preaching to teachers in terms of how to prepare students for the new exam. Although I probably shouldn’t be surprised by these things anymore, I was a bit taken aback by the multiple-choice “check for understanding” questions. The page is, after all, designed for adult professionals, a reasonable number of whom hold graduate degrees; for those of you who don’t care to read, let’s just say it’s not exactly what anyone would call a sophisticated pedagogical approach.
What really shocked me, however, was this video of a model AP classroom, in which a group of students discuss a primary source document about… you guessed it, Frederick Douglass and the 4th of July. Based on everything I’ve heard about the PSAT, this was almost certainly the same passage that appeared on that test.
While the video must have made a while ago to coincide with the first administration of the new APUSH exam — the students featured in it are presumably well past the point of taking the PSAT — there’s still something not quite kosher about the College Board swearing students to secrecy about the content of an exam when content from that exam was presented on its website (albeit in a section students are exceedingly unlikely to find on their own) before the exam was even administered.
It also got me wondering whether passages (“founding documents” or otherwise) that will appear on the new SAT are already presented or alluded to elsewhere on the College Board’s website. In particular, at the possibility that the “founding documents” that appear on the SAT will simply be chosen from among the key APUSH primary source documents. Assuming that the Official Guide is accurate, there will be non-American documents as well, but it seems like a reasonable assumption that many of the documents will issue from that list.
Again, something seems a little off here. This is a list intended for APUSH classes; surely there are many US history classes across the country that will not have such a heavy focus on primary-source documents. If the students who read these documents in school prior to encountering them on the SAT are primarily APUSH students, where does that leave everyone else? Even a strong reader is at a disadvantage if he or she has limited knowledge of a topic, and most students are not exactly racing home after school and reading Frederick Douglass for fun.
You cannot create an internationally administered exam that is given to students following every sort of curriculum imaginable and then claim is is somehow aligned with “what students are doing in school.” Rather, it is aligned — or intended to be aligned — with what some students doing in school. Exactly how is that supposed to make things more equitable?
I don’t know if it’s that suspect. There’s certainly a lot of questionable things going on at College Board, but I don’t think this is one of them. Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July speech is a well known text. It’s a textbook example of persuasive rhetoric. From the four sample redesigned SATs released by College Board, it seems clear that one of the Reading passages will be a persuasive essay or speech from “the past.” It would be odd if those texts *never* overlapped with APUSH material.
Elsewhere on the blog you mentioned how the College Board is aiming to better align the test with students’ curricula. (We both know how much of a sham that is, but…) Even so, I think the Douglass speech is merely a reflection of College Board’s efforts to include more familiar texts.
Right, that was exactly my point. The Douglass passage is obviously there to illustrate that the new SAT is aligned with “what students are doing in the (AP?) classroom” — in that sense it’s perfectly consistent with the CB’s claims. What’s messed up is that the passage is hidden in a corner of the website, in a video about an AP class. The College Board is making a very big deal about transparency, but real transparency means telling people *exactly* what is on the test, e.g. “you need to be familiar with this exact list of speeches because x number of them will appear on the exam.” This is, “we’ll hide little hints about the actual content of the exam in different places around our website, and maybe you’ll find them, maybe you won’t.” That’s not transparency.
As I wrote in my following post, the entire idea of aligning the SAT with “what students are doing in school” is a pipe dream because in the United States, there is no such thing as “what students are doing in school.” There’s only what students at public school A are doing, and what students at private school B are doing (not to mention what students at virtual charter school C are doing, and what students at international IB school D are doing).” There are some general similarities obviously, and some books/documents that *many* students study, but there is no nationally mandated curriculum that schools are required to follow, the way there is in, say, France; as a result, any national-level attempt to align testing with curriculum is inevitably going to result in some students having covered the material on the exam and other students not having covered it.
There’s basically no way out: no one can mandate curriculum at a national level because that’s politically impossible, and so what you get is things like Common Core, which in the high school ELA department is basically just a list of formal skills divorced from any particular content knowledge. You can test the formal skills and claim that you’re aligning the test with schoolwork, but the content piece is still going to be there lurking in the background — and again, some people will have it, and other won’t. Formal skills are not the same thing as subject knowledge, but the CB is very invested in trying to conflate the two.
You might enjoy this sage advice from College Board
Gosh, if the kids get all excited about Founding Documents, they’ll clearly be well on the road to 21st century college and career readiness success.