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up on the AP US History (APUSH) professional development page – specifically the section devoted to teaching using historical documents to teach “close reading” and analytical writing.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?