College Board rolls out content, exam changes

Adan Banks, Sports Editor

College Board, the private organization in charge of administering college standardized tests and providing aid to students in the college search process, has announced major changes to many aspects of the Advanced Placement program that will take effect this year.  These changes will impact both teachers of AP courses and the students who take these classes.

Prior to these changes, students were required to sign up for AP exams before March.  This deadline towards the end of the school year gave students the opportunity to be comfortable with a class before deciding to take the exam or not, and many students judged their preparedness by the grades they earned in the first three quarters.  The deadline is now November 15, a month before the end of Bear Creek’s first semester.  For many students, this change may greatly impact their decisions to take tests.

“These new changes are making me reconsider taking AP tests for the first time,” senior Brenda Be said.  “This system isn’t fair to people who don’t know what to expect.”

The College Board’s new deadline is meant to combat “confidence erosion” in possible test takers.  Based on data collected by the College Board, on average 96 percent of white males and 93 percent of black females intended on taking an AP test, but when test day arrived, only 75 percent of the white males and 58 percent respectively actually took the exam.  Two years ago, the College Board subjected select schools to new policies involving early commitments to AP Exams to examine the benefits of earlier sign-up deadlines.

“From the schools we observed, there was an evident and major increase in exam registrations and pass rates when schools enforced an early deadline,” College Board Associate Director James Allen said at a conference discussing the changes.  “The fall registration helps students be more successful on the AP Exams.”

The new fall deadline is only applicable to first semester courses and year-long courses; second semester courses, such as AP U.S. Government, will adhere to the previous March 13 deadline.

The deadline has received backlash from teachers and students who are accustomed to the spring due date.  Seniors who are taking AP courses may be informed that the school they are accepted into does not grant credit for passing AP exams.  With the early deadline, seniors will have to decide whether or not to spend the costly exam fee before being able to weigh the benefits of a passing score.  This choice many seniors will have to make is further complicated by an additional change meant to prevent this “confidence erosion”: the test cancellation fee has been increased from $13 to $40 per test.

The system isn’t fair to people who don’t know what to expect.
-senior Brenda Be

“College Board is just trying to get more money,” senior Brandon Mak said.  “Moving the deadline back and increasing the cancellation fee is clearly trying to exploit seniors who might not need to take the test when it comes around.”

The College Board has implemented new programs to ensure the success of students in AP and to assist teachers in providing aid to their students.  AP Classroom is a new resource designed to periodically check the progress of students compared to a baseline recommended preparedness for the exams.  The College Board aims to address the problems many teachers have with assessing their students’ understanding of the curriculum and to grant students a new way to study and check their own progress.

“Many teachers truly struggle with knowing where [students] are at in understanding the course material,” College Board Associate Director Cara Bartell said.  “The student reports should be an effective baseline to measure their progress.”

The AP Exams of individual classes have been altered as well with varying degrees of change.  AP English teachers will have to change much of their curriculum and syllabi to prepare their students for exams.  The new rubric instead focuses solely on analysis with a decreased importance of the students’ style and sophistication a shift from the traditional holistic scoring.

“The new rubrics are much more predictable,” AP Literature teacher Laura LaRue said, “and don’t focus on the students’ writing styles.  Sophisticated and unique writing doesn’t matter as much on the [AP Literature] exam now.”

Subjects such as AP Chemistry did not see changes to the exam, and instead only received a more organized curriculum guide.

“The only thing that happened to [AP Chemistry] was that the six unit system was changed to nine,” AP Chemistry teacher Han Nguyen said.  “All of the topics just got shifted around and spread through the units.”

This year will be the first that students experience these changes in the AP system and will test the students’ and teachers’ abilities to adapt to the College Board’s mandates.  The  success or failure of these changes will determine the future of AP in the years to come.