Students taking Advanced Placement courses for college credit may become collateral damage in Gov. Ron DeSantis’s culture wars
Fifty-four of 132 math textbooks were banned from being adopted for the 2022-2023 curriculum in mid-April either because they did not conform to Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards (Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking) or because they allegedly included prohibited topics or unsolicited strategies (read VoxPopuli’s story).
The state Department of Education said that it removed textbooks that tried to slip “prohibited and divisive concepts such as the tenants of CRT [critical race theory] or other unsolicited strategies of indoctrination” into classrooms. The department later clarified that the inclusion of social-emotional learning, such as encouraging students to consider their classmate’s feelings and opinions, was also considered a valid reason for the rejection of those textbooks. (Nine textbooks were later added back after so-called "woke content" was removed.")
What the Department of Education may not have expected, however, is that removing some material from the curriculum may penalize high school students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, like calculus, statistics, microeconomics, American history and English literature, both academically and financially.
The concern over Florida’s curriculum censorship mirrors the conflict that emerged when Indiana legislators proposed a bill during their recent legislative session, which ended March 14, restricting what educators there could teach.
These incursions into the classroom, appeared to prompt College Board, which administers the AP program nationwide, to issue a “Dear Colleague” letter to address educators’ concerns about similar anti-CRT bills being introduced in multiple state legislatures. According to the Indianapolis Star, which reported on the letter, College Board indicated that when required topics are banned, courses will lose their AP designation. If a course loses its AP designation, high school students can no longer earn college credit for that course.
And the Indiana bill? It failed.
On its website and reiterated in the letter, the College Board reminded its colleagues of the seven principles designed “to ensure that teachers’ expertise is respected, required course content is understood, and that students are academically challenged and free to make up their own minds.” If a high school course does not adhere to these principles, College Board can remove its accreditation and thus the students’ ability to claim AP credits on their transcripts.
As College Board explains on its website, each year AP teachers either adopt an existing AP Unit Guide or submit their own syllabus for approval by Jan. 31. If the syllabus is approved by their school’s AP Course Audit administrator, it is reviewed by an external college professor. Approved courses carry the AP designation on transcripts.
As students jockey for spots in the highly competitive college entry race, advanced level courses, like AP courses, can make a difference on a college application. The average student admitted to Florida State University, for example, had nine advanced-level courses on his or her high school transcript. (Other advanced level courses include International Baccalaureate program classes and dual enrollment.)
Jacob Coleman, 18, graduated from Windermere High School in 2021 with 12 AP courses on his transcript. "AP classes help boost one's GPA,” the University of Florida freshman said in an interview. “At least in OCPS (Orange County Public Schools), a passing score on an AP test also results in an automatic "A" in the class, which certainly helped me with AP Chemistry."
"We are seeing students with high scores on multiple AP exams outperforming otherwise similarly credentialed students without strong AP results,” Andrew Belasco, CEO of College Transitions, an admissions counseling company that aids students with their college applications, said in an interview.
"SAT Subject Tests have been discontinued and many universities did away with SAT and ACT requirements. AP exams are one of the few remaining ways a student can demonstrate mastery of college-level content, which can provide significant advantages in the application process."
But an AP exam score, which ranges from 1 to 5, isn’t just another number on a student’s college application. AP classes are considered university-level coursework. A good score on the annual May tests may allow students to skip certain basic classes in college, which, in turn, could mean lower costs for them. Coleman reported that "many of the requirements for my major and college were covered by AP credits."
Jen Cousins, co-founder of Florida’s Freedom to Read Project, which promotes free speech and protection of the public’s access to information and materials, said losing AP accreditation will hurt Florida’s families financially.
“Kids who have been taking the courses will now be out of the free college credits they’ve already worked so hard for, which will, in turn, raise the cost of college tuition for families who were counting on the AP program to help alleviate a bit of that financial burden,” she said via text message.
Not every AP class Coleman took in high school had a corresponding course at UF he could bypass, but he said he would "definitely be irked if some of the larger prerequisite classes, such as Calculus and Biology, lost their accreditation, and I had to take them again."
Cousins encourages people who are concerned to speak up at school board meetings and/or write to Board of Education members. “We have to be the loud voices in the room who are demanding an inclusive, robust, and supportive public education for our future leaders and backbones of society,” she said.
Removing certain textbooks and any material that might cause discomfort in students – or more likely, their parents – limits the extent of their learning and experience with the world. Educators have raised this alarm about both the ethical and practical effects such curriculum bans might have. “The richness of literature comes from the reflection of real life,” an OCPS teacher who teaches AP literature said in a private message. They asked for anonymity since they are not authorized to speak with the media.
“Real life has violence and sex and racism, as well as friendship and faith and joy. The idea of not sharing every aspect with my students makes me horrified,” the literature teacher said. “We just finished [Ralph] Ellison’s Invisible Man (one of the most banned books), and my students always say it’s the most important book we read.”