College Board Moves To ‘Clarify’ New AP History Test

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Blake Neff Reporter
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Under fire from conservative activists, the testing organization College Board has released a full practice test of the new AP U.S. History test, along with a statement defending the test’s legitimacy.

Activists, led by the American Principles Project and the Concerned Women For America Legislative Action Committee, have complained that a new version of the test being implemented in 2014 takes an overly negative tone on U.S. history.

Additionally, they complain that the 50-page course framework that is teachers’ guide to the AP test gives insufficient attention to major figures like George Washington and James Madison, who they say will consequently be marginalized in the teaching of the course.

Last week, the Republican National Committee during its summer meeting approved a resolution condemning the new AP U.S. History test and supporting those who had fought against it. The RNC called for the College Board to delay the implementation of the new test.

To respond to the criticism, College Board president David Coleman has taken the unusual step of releasing a full AP practice exam to the public, which it has never done before (typically, exams are only released to teachers). Coleman also announced that the College Board will release an updated version of the tests’s controversial framework in order to reduce the “principled confusion” over it.

The practice test reveals the changed emphasis of the new exam. Gone are multiple choice items on random facts of American history. Instead, multiple choice questions are paired with charts and excerpts from historical documents that call on students to analyze as well as demonstrate pure knowledge. In addition, a greater proportion of the test is focused on writing skills, with students called to complete four short essays as well as two longer ones.

Still, it is the College Board’s hope that critics and concerned parents will be assuaged by the revealed practice test. Benjamin Franklin, whose absence from the new APUSH outline was a source of criticism, makes an appearance in the multiple choice section as the author of a document on Great Awakening religious leader George Whitefield. Most other documents are similarly drawn from major American historical figures, from Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine to Ronald Reagan and John Muir.

“Every question on the new AP U.S. History Exam now requires students to demonstrate an understanding of America’s important historical documents and leaders,” said Coleman in an open letter accompanying the exam’s release.

Larry Krieger, a retired teacher and popular author of test prep books who is a leading critic of the new test, told The Daily Caller News Foundation the released practice exam only serves to emphasize his concerns about the exam. The appearance of excerpts by Ben Franklin and other important figures was mere window-dressing, he said, that did not in any way require students to actually know something about people involved.

“It could have been by LeBron James,” Krieger said of the Franklin-authored excerpt.

Krieger says the questions on the exam systematically favor an extremely progressive, left-wing view of U.S. history that only occasionally alludes to alternative viewpoints.

As an example, he cited a portion of the multiple choice section that revolved around the suffering of poor workers during the Industrial Revolution, which immediately segued into another set of three questions based on a writing excerpt from John Muir.

These segments, Krieger said, created a consistent “narrative” that endorses an interventionist, liberal role for the federal government, while other questions emphasize racial conflict and other sordid elements of American history. Meanwhile, he complained, the test never requires students to demonstrate knowledge about early American experiments with democratic governance or innovative policies of religious freedom.

“It’s relentless. There’s no balance,” he said. Krieger said there is no problem with including leftist interpretations of American history in the exam, but he emphasized that their inclusion must be balanced rather than the dominant interpretation of U.S. history.

In addition to political and other figures being neglected, Krieger said the test confirmed his fears that entire swaths of America’s cultural history were blotted out. While past tests almost always had material on Transcendentalists and other major literary movements in U.S. history, literary history has been totally excised from the released practice test.

Ultimately, the differences between the new test and the old one, which Krieger taught for decades, couldn’t be greater, he said.

“If you view every test as a new link in a chain, they snapped the chain,” he said.

Krieger said that the U.S. History test, by far the most popular AP test in the country (taken by 500,000 students a year), has an importance that goes far beyond merely preparing students to be “apprentice historians.” For many students, he said, it will be the only detailed year-long course in American history they ever take. At stake are how millions of people view America’s traditions and values.

“They need a good solid grounding both in the achievements of America, and in our efforts to redress grievances,” said Krieger.

Even without addressing the practice test itself, critics of the College Board have several outstanding criticisms, namely that the organization has still declined to reveal who actually authored the test’s new framework. The Board’s refusal has fueled speculation that the standards may have been authored by very left-wing college professors, or possibly by ordinary grad students working as freelancers rather than by full professors.

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Blake Neff