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High schools could lose AP classes if they ban ‘required topics’ from being taught

The College Board says schools that fail to teach topics outlined by the Advanced Placement program could lose AP designation for those classes.
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/ Source: TODAY

As a host of state legislatures and school districts across the country vote to ban certain books and subjects from being taught in schools, the College Board announced in a new statement of principles this week that any high schools that ban "required topics" in their Advanced Placement classes could lose AP designation.

That means a ban on any AP materials required by The College Board, a nonprofit that oversees the SAT and the AP program, could mean a school losing specific AP classes.

The amount of AP classes offered is often factored in by parents when weighing the quality of a high school, and colleges and universities weigh how many AP classes a student took during the admissions process. Having AP classes lose their designation would also remove the opportunity for high school students to earn college credits in those subjects by scoring high on AP exams.

"If a school bans required topics from their AP courses, the AP Program removes the AP designation from that course and its inclusion in the AP Course Ledger provided to colleges and universities," Zach Goldberg, executive director of media relations for The College Board, told TODAY in an email.

In a section titled "What AP Stands For" on its website, AP writes that it "opposes censorship."

"AP is animated by a deep respect for the intellectual freedom of teachers and students alike," the statement reads. "If a school bans required topics from their AP courses, the AP Program removes the AP designation from that course and its inclusion in the AP Course Ledger provided to colleges and universities.

"For example, the concepts of evolution are at the heart of college biology, and a course that neglects such concepts does not pass muster as AP Biology."

Goldberg did not comment on whether schools in states like Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee, which have passed bills banning teaching about race, could potentially lose AP designation in subjects like English or history for not teaching the required topics in an AP course.

Related: Here’s what Black students have to say about ‘critical race theory’ bans

The College Board gives schools and AP teachers "a framework" of course materials to design their courses and prepare students for the content of the AP exam, according to Goldberg.

The AP program determines the framework by collecting syllabi from colleges nationwide and then convening a committee of "leading scholars and educators in their field" to aggregate the syllabi and create "a non-partisan framework reflecting the content of a corresponding college-level course," Goldberg said.

The College Board determines whether a school is properly following the framework of an AP class through an annual audit process conducted by college professors across the country.

"They review the school’s AP curricula to ensure that the content includes the level of rigor (specific topics and skills) that colleges require for courses labeled 'AP,'" Golberg said. "Once a course is authorized, it is listed in the AP Course Ledger — the official list of all AP courses — so colleges and universities can verify what they see on student transcripts."

Related: How important is it to take AP classes for college admissions?

Goldberg noted that it's "rare" for a school to lose an AP designation.

The College Board also wrote in its statement of principles that AP stands for clarity and transparency because "confusion about what is permitted in the classroom disrupts teachers and students as they navigate demanding work."

It also says it "opposes indoctrination."

"AP students are expected to analyze different perspectives from their own, and no points on an AP Exam are awarded for agreement with a viewpoint," the statement reads. "AP students are not required to feel certain ways about themselves or the course content. AP courses instead develop students’ abilities to assess the credibility of sources, draw conclusions, and make up their own minds."

The principles, which were first reported by independent journalist Judd Legum for his Popular Information newsletter, come amid a climate in which many Republican state lawmakers have pushed bills to ban certain books as well teaching about race or racism, as well as LGBTQ+ issues.

One of those lawmakers, Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston, was a senior vice president for The College Board for nearly a decade before stepping down earlier this month to focus on his political duties, according to The Indianapolis Star. Huston voted in favor of an Indiana bill that prohibits teachers from promoting certain “divisive concepts" involving sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation.

This isn't the first time that The College Board's framework for AP courses has been in the spotlight. In 2015, it changed its course guide and framework for AP U.S. History for a "clearer and more balanced approach" after a backlash to its 2014 guidelines, according to The Washington Post.

The framework had come under fire from prominent conservatives as well as the Republican National Committee, which said in a resolution that it “emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects," according to The Washington Post.