US Educators Debate Proposal to Cut Thousands of Years from AP Class

08 July, 2018

American high school students might have a big change in their world history education next year.

The College Board announced in May that it plans to limit the amount of material covered in its Advanced Placement (AP) World History exam. It wants the exam to test students on their knowledge of the past 560 years or so -- from the year 1450 to the present.

This means students would not be tested on people, places and events before that period. They would not need to know about the Roman Empire, ancient Egyptian and Chinese history, or the Incan and Aztec civilizations before the arrival of European explorers.

This image taken from video, Feb. 3, 2018, shows wall paintings inside a 4,400-year-old tomb near the pyramids outside Cairo, Egypt.
This image taken from video, Feb. 3, 2018, shows wall paintings inside a 4,400-year-old tomb near the pyramids outside Cairo, Egypt.

The College Board's proposal has received strong criticism from teachers across the United States. Some feel the move would increase the influence of Western Europe in AP World History classes. They say this also would reduce the amount of time they spend teaching about other cultures.

A disservice to teaching history

The College Board is an independent organization that supports the growth of U.S. higher education. The not-for-profit group directs the AP program and AP exams in U.S. high schools.

Schools pay the College Board to use its AP teaching program and tests. The material chosen for the exams influences what subjects are included in the classes.

Jaslee Carayol, a spokesperson for the College Board, said its leadership proposed the changes because the AP World History class covers too much information. The College Board suggests spreading the material over two classes, as many U.S. colleges do.

Carayol said "Our intention in spreading the content of AP World History over two courses is to ensure that such important content is given the time it deserves. In doing this, we are following the same model that colleges use, and that we have used for most other AP courses, whether in science, English, mathematics, world languages, or the arts, providing students with a foundational year of content prior to the AP year."

Trevor Packer, the head of College Board's AP program, told The New York Times the plan was based, in part, on comments from history teachers. He noted that some said they struggled to teach almost 100 centuries of material in just one year.

Criticism of the College Board plan

However, many teachers and educators have sharply criticized the proposal.

Sara Hannan, a former history teacher, said that she was "heartbroken" by the proposal, and that it does a disservice to teaching history.

Hannan lives in Juneau, the capital of Alaska. "I think 1450 really focuses it onto a European dominated story... it throws us back to that arrogance of western civilization as the focus of history," she added.

Peter Stearns, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, agrees. Stearns noted that many events taking place before 1450 are important. He said they provide students a foundation to learn about more recent history.

Stearns added that while he understands the need for organizing a curriculum, so that students can understand history better, it is clear that 1450 is not the right date to start with. It is important, he said, to include material about the history of non-Western societies and cultures before the time of globalization.

Stearns was one of several professors who signed a letter to the College Board's Trevor Packer. The letter warned that if the class were to begin at 1450, the signers would urge their universities to stop accepting AP World History for college credit.

In June, at a meeting with Packer in Utah, many teachers protested the idea, in sometimes tense discussions.

Teacher Amanda DoAmaral explained that schools would not have the money to pay for two AP World History classes. "They don't have the money for pencils, dude," she said. "How are they going to teach that class?"

Politico reported that a new pre-AP world history class would cost anywhere from $600 to $6,500, depending on the size of the school and the number of pre-AP courses being offered.

High school students have entered the debate.

Dylan Black, a student from New Jersey, is leading a campaign on the website He is calling on Packer to cancel his proposal. The campaign has 11,000 signatures, well above an earlier goal of 5,000.

Open to change

It appears that the College Board is listening to the criticism from American educators.

In an e-mail to VOA, Jaslee Carayol said the College Board was moved by the concerns about how the changes to AP World History could affect students.

"We recognize how important it is for students to study non-European cultures and civilizations prior to 1450. We will address such principled concerns in a revised approach we will share soon," she said.

Last month, Packer wrote that he still believes one year is not enough time to teach all of the material currently taught in an AP World History Class. He said it is important for students to learn about historical events taking place before 1450. And he promised to look for a solution that is more agreeable to educators.

In response, Stearns wrote on his blog that while some educators will still be disappointed, College Board's openness is a good sign.

Stearns also said that if one of the issues is how colleges organize their history classes, then maybe professors should discuss among themselves the best way for structuring their own curriculum.

I'm Phil Dierking.

And I'm Lucija Millonig

Phil Dierking reported this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Do you think high schools should teach history before 1450? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

advanced - adj. beyond the basic level

deserve - v. used to say that someone or something should or should not have or be given something

intention - n. the thing that you plan to do or achieve

foundation - n. something, such as an idea, a principle, or a fact, that provides support for something

focus - v. to cause (something, such as attention) to be directed at something specific

dude - n. a man — used especially by young people

arrogance - n. an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people

globalization - n. when something covers, involves, or affects the entire world

revise - v. to make changes especially to correct or improve (something)

address - v. to give attention to (something)