Sunday, February 05, 2023

The College Board is a conservative organization

I'm bemused by the brouhaha over the College Board dropping "controversial" and important subject matter in the AP African America History after Florida Governor DeSantis and other conservatives objected. 

What did we expect? The College Board is a fundamentally conservative organization that preserves the status quo. They long offered subject matter tests for Greek and Latin, which is taught at elite private schools, while they did not offer any tests for Asian languages until the addition of Japanese in 1993. They didn't even offer Mandarin until 1994

What's inexcusable is the deference that we gave to the defenders of the unequal status quo. 

When I applied to the University of California, we had to have studied 3 years of a foreign language tested by the College Board. CB did not test for any Asian languages in the 1980s. Thus, I studied German in high school, sitting in the same classroom as Peter Thiel, a native German speaker who immigrated from Germany. 

I would have loved to have studied Mandarin instead, but my high school only offered languages accepted by the University of California, while only accepted languages tested by a testing service organized to sort students from elite high schools in the Northeast for elite colleges of the Northeast. 

This kind of circularity was mind boggling to observe but I sucked it up and studied German and Latin in HS. It was so unfair that all the Asian American students, many of whom spoke an Asian language at home, could not enjoy the same privilege as white students who got to learn a language at public school that they can use to speak with their parents and grandparents at home. 

Because of US immigration law that severely restricted immigration from Asian countries before 1966, most of the Asian American kids in my HS were immigrants who spoke an Asian language at home. 

We had to learn a THIRD language just to get into California's public universities. 

Our test scores for European languages were evaluated against kids learning only a second language. Even worse, we got no credit for knowing Asian languages. 

The College Board has power in part because we give them power. We can cut them out. 

What if, we didn't give value to AP test scores and the curriculum they represent? What if we taught a more in-depth curriculum, tailored to the needs and interests of the students? We'd lose some uniformity, but be more relevant to each student. We might even foster more love of learning for its own sake. 

Colleges and universities can just request a list of the books and readings used in history classes rather than rely on the AP test to create a de facto curriculum. Have kids supply a writing sample from their history or literature classes. 



  1. Anonymous16:11

    Actually I can think of several other uncomplimentary adjectives for the College Board and the testing organization(s). Further, in my opinion the systematic undermining of public education at all levels sponsored by one of the main political parties is linked to many of our current political and public health problems. As you can see your post has triggered a rant.


    1. totally understandable and relatable

  2. Anonymous19:20

    Are you sure there was ever a requirement by the UC’s that your foreign language had to be tested by the College Board? That was absolutely not the case when I graduated in high school in 86. The 86 rules were enacted in 82, and the 82-86 rules were easier then (only defining 11 of your high school courses be in English, math, sciences, foreign languages, history, social sciences or arts…this moved in 86 to 15 yearlong courses in this area and 1 additional course.

    In short, while BOARS requires 3 years of non-English, it does not specify College Board tested languages for that and I doubt it ever did as there were always high schools specializing in other languages (e.g. friend went to a Swedish school and had no need to pick up Spanish there).

    Where I think you might have a point is the UCs had limited tests that allowed you to waive out of needing to do yet another language. E.g. I had a friend who needed to take a language in high school with us despite his fluency in Igbo. There was no approved test then that our high school knew of to test out of the requirement with,

    1. I'm older than you and Asian languages did not satisfy the requirement when I was in HS. I recall the change and being incredulous that the change was so late.

  3. I remember those rules, although they did not affect me directly in the same way they affected you. I do remember that the language requirements for the colleges I applied to all demanded that they be on the short list supported by the college board. This did not affect me as my small school only taught 2 languages, both of which qualified. Even at that time it seemed like a short-sighted list to me, despite the white-bread culture of the area in which I lived, an area where there was very little cultural diversity. The College Board has never been a bastion of progressive insight, which when you get down to it is not at all surprising given its role as a gatekeeper.


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