Taking the 'Advanced' Out of 'Advanced Placement'

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Advanced Placement courses are hard. This is why they are called 'advanced.' Were these classes to become easier--or just less tough--they would no longer be advanced. They'd be normal. This hasn't stopped the College Board--the non-profit organization that runs the AP and SAT--from announcing a series of changes to the amount of material many of the tests will cover. By changes, they mean reductions. They want to shift to a focus "what students need to be able to do with their knowledge," according to College Board vice president Trevor Packer, but, reports The New York Times, "A.P. teachers made clear that such a shift was impossible unless the breadth of material covered was pared down."

Lest you think the new exams--slated to debut in 2014 or 2015--will somehow destroy your old AP chem teacher's raison d'etre, New York Times education reporter Christopher Drew offers a sweeping defense of the College Board's changes, suggesting the classes have demanded too much of American teens in recent years. Already preoccupied with chaste vampires and fictional glee clubs, Drew notes students enrolled in AP courses have also had to keep tabs on "breakthroughs in genetic research and cellular organization, and momentous events like the cold war, the civil rights movement, Watergate and the war on terror."

Recommended Reading

Recognizing the course of history seldom stops to accommodate the needs of high school juniors, the College Board has gone about crafting a curriculum that stops it for them. Drew explains what this means for U.S. history test-takers:

The new plans divide United States history into nine time periods and seven overarching themes. But instead of requiring students to memorize the dates of the Pequot War — which, for those of you who forgot, occurred from 1634 to 1638 and eliminated the Pequot tribe in what is now Connecticut — teachers will have more leeway to focus on different events in teaching students how to craft historical arguments.

And those enrolled in biology:

The change means paring down the entire field to four big ideas. The first is a simple statement that evolution 'drives the diversity and unity of life.' The others emphasize the systematic nature of all living things: that they use energy and molecular building blocks to grow; respond to information essential to life processes; and interact in complex ways. Under each of these thoughts, a 61-page course framework lays out the most crucial knowledge students need to absorb.
College administrators and veteran A.P. teachers familiar with the new biology curriculum believe the changes could have significant reverberations for how science is taught in introductory college classes and even elementary school classrooms, and might bring some of the excitement back to science learning.

Exciting science classes? No memorization in history? China doesn't stand a chance.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.