College Board's 'Flexibility Doctrine' in AP U.S. History Exam for Optics Only

College Board's 'Flexibility Doctrine' in AP U.S. History Exam for Optics Only

Is the College Board really honoring state U.S. History standards? Not at all.

The anonymous authors of the College Board’s redesigned AP U.S. History (APUSH) Framework created a radical new document that far transcends the previous five-page Topical Outline. As commentator Stanley Kurtz accurately observes, “The College Board is pushing U.S. history as far to the left as it can get away with at the high school level.”

Despite the College Board’s assurances that contrary state history standards can still be taught, however, its own AP Exam belies these claims.

The College Board understands that its new Framework is not aligned with standards legally adopted by states across America. For example, a report commissioned by the College Board found that the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills contains 181 specific and required elements from the Civil War to the present that are not in the College Board Framework.

Similarly, an analysis of the Alabama Standards for U.S. History revealed 134 required elements that are not specifically mentioned in the Framework.

The College Board also makes clear that information from such state standards will be essentially useless on the APUSH Exam.

The Framework states in boldface letters, “Beginning with the May 2015 AP U.S. History Exams, no AP U.S. History Exam question will require students to know historical content that falls outside this concept outline.”

The College Board knows it has a problem. What if citizens and state officials object to having their history standards usurped by the APUSH Framework? So the Framework assures them that “[t]he new curriculum framework accommodates states that require teachers to cover material that will not appear on the exam.” How so? “The questions,” we are assured, “are written in a way that allows students to focus their responses on the historical examples taught in the course. If a state mandates curriculum related to a local political leader or event, for example, students can use this material to support their reasoning in written responses.”

But does this “flexibility doctrine” bridge the gap between the College Board Framework and state standards? No. An inspection of the structure of the new APUSH Exam reveals the “flexibility” claim to be marketing rather than substance.

The first part of the Exam consists of 55 multiple-choice questions that count for 40 percent of a student’s total score. The questions ask students to respond to stimulus material that includes primary-source passages, graphs, political cartoons, and pictures. These multiple-choice questions by their very nature require a specific correct answer. Since the documents and questions are all carefully linked to the Framework, there is no room for “flexibility.”

The second part of the Exam consists of four short-answer questions that count for 20 percent of a student’s total grade. According to the Framework, “These questions will directly address one or more of the thematic learning objectives for the course.” Like the multiple-choice questions, the short-answer questions are focused on very specific topics. With just 45 minutes to complete all four questions, it is highly unlikely that time-pressed students will be able to recall and include outside knowledge that goes beyond the Framework.

The third part of the Exam consists of a document-based question, popularly called a DBQ, that counts for 25 percent of a student’s score. The DBQ requires students to analyze 5 – 7 historical documents, formulate a thesis, and support it with relevant evidence from the provided documents. Once again, the Exam gives students a required question that is rooted in the Framework and that will allow for, at best, very limited information from state standards.

The final part of the Exam requires students to respond to one of two long essay questions anchored in specific Framework key concepts. But these questions – the only ones that realistically allow inclusion of (limited) extra content from state standards – count for just 15 percent of a student’s total score. As Dr. Kurtz points out, “The Framework also insists that the exam must be used to illustrate the themes and concepts behind the official College Board vision.” Those themes and concepts, as have been revealed elsewhere, are deeply and even radically at odds with those contained in state history standards.

The bottom line is that the Exam will control what’s taught in APUSH classes – and the Exam offers little or no opportunity for supplementation from state standards. The College Board is proving itself no longer entitled to the deference it has long been given. Will state officials allow the College Board to replace their standards with leftist nonsense – or will they demand a retraction of the new APUSH Framework?

Jane Robbins is the senior fellow of APP Education of the American Principles Project, a conservative advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

Larry Krieger is a retired AP U.S. History teacher from Pennsylvania.

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