Gentrified Education

CollegeBoard’s AP tests fundamentally disregard cultural diversity.


Ally Cheng, Staff Writer

“Will this be on the test?” It’s a question we’ve all heard before, echoing through classrooms as we try to fit ever-more information into our brains. As high school students, we are constantly learning and studying and taking tests, so determining what to prioritize is critical. It’s much the same way on the other side of the coin, as well: one can only put so much information on a test and reasonably expect students to succeed. But exactly what criteria are tests designed to meet?

The College Board’s Advanced Placement tests are a recognized standard across more than 60 countries worldwide. There are currently 38 AP tests covering a wide range of subjects, designed to establish a standard of comprehensive knowledge in any given field. The College Board dominates the field of standardized testing, particularly in the case of these subject-specific exams.

Because of this, the College Board is gaining more and more influence over the subject matter that students learn in school today. While their system may be reliable, it also has the potential to be incredibly harmful, relegating students’ understanding of subjects throughout their high school careers to a limited perspective. This is effective in teaching a general outline of subject material—but often fails to address important nuances in each area. For instance, the AP U. S. History course has no mention of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s despite the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

A common counterargument is that there’s simply “not enough time” to cover these topics, but therein lies the issue: if no one will teach this material, then how can anyone be expected to learn it? Because AP courses are seen as so comprehensive, students are not typically encouraged to explore this nuance or to learn about the things they may have missed. This, combined with the ubiquitous nature of the AP program, is raising entire generations lacking otherwise well-known and important background knowledge. This reigns doubly true when students are able to use their AP credits to bypass the course in college, robbing themselves of the opportunity to explore the topic in a way that is not limited by the standards of the test.

A common counterargument is that there’s simply ‘not enough time’ to cover these topics, but therein lies the issue: if no one will teach this material, then how can anyone be expected to learn it?

The scope of this issue, unfortunately, is much larger than missing a handful of historical events in an otherwise well-rounded course. The College Board is in a position where they can, relatively easily, erase entire cultures from the curriculum. Take, for instance, the AP Music Theory course, where emphasis is placed solely on the western “classical” understanding of harmony and voice leading. Other cultures around the world have completely different approaches to and understandings of music, and these perspectives are almost completely ignored within the AP test.

This erasure expands beyond nuances in individual courses, however: the only language and culture exams offered are Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish. While it wouldn’t be reasonable to demand that courses be designed for each of the 6500+ languages around the world, such a small fraction exposes the narrow scope of the College Board’s designations. According to multiple online sources, the top spoken languages in the world also include Hindi, Arabic, Bengla, and Russian. Languages like German and Italian rank much lower on the list. While these remain important, the fact that they have been developed into courses rather than the more prominent but less Eurocentric languages reveals yet another weakness, in how the College Board’s strategy focuses primarily on Western culture and all but eradicates nearly everything else.

Why does this matter? Beyond the standpoint of the importance of cultural preservation, it’s also important to consider the handicap this places on us as we grow and move into the world. Not only are we at risk of regarding non-Western and non-traditional viewpoints through a lens of superiority, but we face the loss of empathy and understanding towards people whose lives and cultures are not immediately familiar. Overall, this one-track program shuts out the potential for outside ideas and influence and has the potential to hinder cultural growth in our foreseeable future.

There is no easy solution to making this aspect of our high school education truly more well-rounded. Even if a College Board competitor were to be introduced, it would still gain the power to limit the content it teaches, and would likely adhere to a similar structure as the APs. However, even being more aware of what we might be missing is a big step. Understanding that even if you get a 5, there is still so much more to learn, is crucial to being able to then move on and find more that you may not know.