0:00:01.1 Akil Bello: So, if we assume AP is better than other things, then it's a more rigorous course, it helps in admissions, right?
0:00:08.1 Nick Covington: Mm-hmm.
0:00:09.6 AB: But the money part of it, the credit only comes from taking the test. So College Board is kind of like a person with a hammer who... Like, everything is a nail, the test is the solution for all the things, and it's really... To me, it's testing because we don't believe or trust teachers.
0:00:29.4 NC: Hello and welcome to an Advanced Placement episode of our podcast at the Human Restoration Project. My name is Nic Covington, and I'm a social studies teacher from Ankeny, Iowa. Before we get started, I wanted to let you know that this special episode is only made possible by supporters who have donated to our May funding drive. Shout out to all who have donated any amount, but huge thanks to our top three donors at the time of this recording, Ryan Boran, Shelly Buchanan and Donald DeLand. Regardless of when you're hearing this, if you find this podcast and our resource is insightful and valuable to your personal and professional learning, consider supporting us at any time at humanrestorationproject.org/donate.
0:01:12.5 NC: Today, I am joined by Akil Bello, according to akilandfriends.org, Akil began his career in a truly hands-on fashion. He was a test tutor responsible for shepherding thousands of students through exams and training hundreds of instructors, always in the pursuit of empowering students to achieve educational success. Now, Akil is a highly sought after speaker and frequently presents at high schools, colleges and conferences about education access and preparation, a nationally recognized authority on standardized testing, Akil has advised universities and currently serves as Senior Director of Advocacy and advancement at Fair Test, the National Center for fair and open testing, where he is responsible for building resources and creating tools in support of the organization's mission of advancing quality education and equal opportunity.
0:02:01.6 NC: He last joined our podcast in July 2021 with the release of our 51-page Learning Loss Handbook, which you can find on our website. Akil helped us contextualize the term, understand the use of standardized test scores, and particularly the marketing behind test companies' push to accelerate learning through diagnostic tests and prep materials in response to pandemic education. Now, over the next two weeks, nearly three million high school students are expected to take nearly five million advanced placement exams, including my own students, where the stakes are no less than the potential for college credit amounting to tens of thousands of dollars for individual test takers. Also at stake are hundreds of millions of dollars for the billion dollar non-profit college board, whose proprietary advanced placement program is its largest single source of revenue.
0:02:52.1 NC: With the College Board also shepherding the SAT through an era of increasingly test-blind admissions, what could possibly go wrong? In this episode, Akil and I discuss the history and context of the College Board and how the AP program in particular fits into college board's vision for College-Ready admissions. How that very vision is undermined by the emphasis on a three and a half hour exam in May and what we could be doing instead to crash the gates and actually improve accessibility and equity in the admissions process in the absence of the Advanced Placement signifier. As a heads up, there's just a few seconds of cross-talk at the beginning of this episode owing to Internet lag issues. So, forgive me for that. You can find Akil on Twitter at akilbello and at akilbello.com. Enjoy.
0:03:53.9 AB: I'm Akil Bello. My day job is Senior Director of Advocacy and Advancement of fair test, which is the National Center for fair and open testing. It's an advocacy organization that advocates for more responsible, transparent and limited use of standardized test. I am also a 30-year test prep veteran, so I've been teaching people to fill in bubbles since 1990, and I've taught pretty much every test that doesn't require real knowledge, so I've never taught AP explicitly, 'cause you actually have to know stuff.
0:04:35.8 NC: I always thought that it was such an interesting tension or even just such an interesting perspective of yours being critical of that testing space and while also being part of the test prep side of it, just as like a sight of how do you mesh those things? I mean, yours is one of the better critical voices of that and yet, it's such a necessary or required part for students to get in through those gates. How do you do that for yourself?
0:05:03.4 AB: I started in test prep, right?
0:05:06.0 NC: Right.
0:05:07.8 AB: So, that was sort of my first job while I was in college. Not my first job, but it was one of my earlier jobs in college, so I've been doing test prep forever. And I think it's in doing test prep that I gained an understanding and become more critical of the test themselves. So, as I learned more about their flaws, their limitations, the research behind them, the pseudo-objective-ness and all of those things, that's actually what led me to being critical of the test. And the way I look at it right now is, the test as they are currently used and exist... And when I say test, I generally mean large scale admissions tests. I put APs in a slightly different bucket, and I put accountability test in a slightly different bucket. I think they have overlapping issues, but they're not quite the same. But generally speaking, standardized admissions test, what I ended up coming to is that the way that they're used especially is hugely problematic, and I can tell you that because I've spent so long, people paid me money and in six weeks, they move a standard deviation, that's a problem?
0:06:21.5 AB: That's not a good result, like, that shouldn't be a thing. I shouldn't be able to have a 30-year career where someone can pay me money to move their test score. So, I will happily drive myself out of that business, because it's a bad business to be in.
0:06:37.7 NC: Well said, I mean, my goodness, you have to know the game to play it, you gotta know your enemy, I suppose, in order to bide it, having the AP inhabiting a little bit of a different space than the admissions exams... The last time that we had you on our program was to discuss that concept of learning loss in and how it was being leveraged then by the testing industry to sell Accelerated Learning Programs, additional diagnostic tests for students in schools, and I think, especially at the height of the pandemic, we saw more universities adopting those varying degrees of test optional, test-blind admissions, and of course, that story wouldn't be complete without bringing in the College Board, which is kind of at the center, the nexus point, I suppose of both halves of the testing and the Advanced Placement Program that they are also the owners of, and I just read a stat today that said that AP curriculum, which is ubiquitous throughout American high schools, makes up nearly half of the College Board's billion dollar revenues. I think it pulled in about 466 million dollars in 2016.
0:07:48.0 AB: I believe it's their single biggest money maker.
0:07:50.8 NC: Is it really? Okay. So that 466 million... The difference then is SAT and other things in there too?
0:07:58.8 AB: SAT, springboard, student search.
0:08:05.0 NC: Got you.
0:08:06.7 AB: Trainings, all the other little things they're dabbling their hands in.
0:08:10.8 NC: Okay. I was wondering if then maybe you could just provide some history, I guess it goes back a long ways, but some context for the College Board, and I guess AP courses in particular, for the context for this. And how do AP courses fit into the College Board's purpose or their vision for college admissions, and maybe kind of explore a little bit of the tension between their established purpose and where they are in practice. I don't know, unpack that for us.
0:08:40.1 AB: So once you go down the College Board rabbit hole, it is a very strange thing, because if you go back far enough, you end up at the origins of testing and the eugenicist who started it. And I think that that's an important starting point because they haven't fully separated themselves from those origins, and so there's an elitism, a somewhat problematic origin story to standardize testing as a field, to College Board as a company, and to the AP program as a product. So, the AP program itself, I wanna say it started in the 50s, it started because the administrators at Andover, Exeter, and some other hoity-toity place, they basically got together and said, "when our poor little snowflakes are ending up in college, they're clearly bored because they've had such a great high school experience, they're way too smart for your piddly colleges. So what we want to do is give them accelerated work in high school, and they get credit for that in college because they're brighter than the other generic people you're admitting." I'm exaggerating it a little bit, but it's not far off. So it was their phrases like in the initial meeting... College Board has on their website, a summary of the early meetings of the group that put together the AP program, and one of the phrases they use that floored me was, "It was for the ablest students."
0:10:27.1 NC: Direct quote?
0:10:29.4 AB: Right. Those who would benefit from advanced instruction, things like that. That's just very clear and demonstrative of the type of elitism and snobbery that centered around the program's creation. It was essentially designed to give students in these highly exclusive places a leg up when they went to college because they thought they were too good for these basic classes in college. So it was designed as a program for exclusion, it started at the elite boarding schools, "elite" not the right word, but we'll call it that for now. So at the country club schools, and eventually... Now, to their credit, we can interpret this in any way we want to, at some point, 70s, 80s, 90s, College Board decides to expand the program, to actively aggressively start expanding the program, and they have been continuing that of late, there is sort of an aggressive expansion of the program, which also we can look at it from a historical lens, not very many years ago, a bunch of private schools said, "Maybe we're gonna reject AP." Why would that be? Ah, correlated with the expansion of the program because now the unwashed masses have access to a piece.
0:11:51.0 AB: So there's an interesting sort of history of... It's not simply, "let's develop a more rigorous curriculum to help push forward education", it's let's developed program that allow this small cohort of students to show that they're better than the others, and to reap the benefits of showing this, and it really wasn't gonna take off until Harvard came in and said that they were going to accept it as well, they came in late into the conversation, but decided they were gonna accept it as well. But if you fast-forward to today, what you have is College Board aggressively expanding the program, which you can cynically look at that and say, College Board is aggressively marketing their most valuable product, or you can listen to College Boards marketing, which I can't... I don't know the conversations behind it, so I'm not gonna say what they've decided to do or what motivated it, but you could also say that they're looking to expand equity and give more people access to this, blah, blah, blah blah, blah, there's space, sure, that is the language that's also used there.
0:12:58.5 NC: So it is so interesting, isn't it the way that as the program expands then as it kind of infringes on that elitism, they have to find a new benchmark for that. And I think when you were talking about that, the first thing that I thought of is my own experience as a teacher of the program when several years ago, I don't remember if it was before or after the redesign of the AP humanities, but I remember some of the state schools and some of the schools that my students were applying to that had previously accepted threes as counting for their college credit, bumped it up in many cases for fours or even fives. So even without the kind of extremity of just denying AP credits, kind of raising that bar to only capture, say the top 10% of test takers is sort of an elitism unto itself. Isn't it?
0:13:48.3 AB: Yeah, I mean, I think that is also an interesting positioning for the AP program, right. Because to me, the value comes from the classroom experience, not from the test. Right. But as far as... And the classroom experience, if we assume that the course is more rigorous than regular courses, which I'm gonna not express an opinion on that, I don't think I've ever taken an AP course and I've certainly never taught one. So if we assume AP is better than other things, that it's a more rigorous course, it helps in admissions. Right. But the money part of it, the credit only comes from taking the test, so college board is kind of like a person with a hammer who everything is a nail, a test is the solution for all the things, and it's really to me, it's testing because we don't believe or trust teachers. Right. That's why we have to have a test that's not written by the teachers 'cause we don't trust the teachers, which, again, I can understand some of the debates there, but I think it's a really interesting and bizarre approach to say rather than create a system that fixes problems in education, let's just create these tests that stand apart from it, that have all these problematic correlations, that have all these issues on top of it.
0:15:13.0 NC: Yeah, go ahead.
0:15:13.1 AB: Then we say... Because in the end, it boils down to, we don't trust teachers. We don't trust the schools. We want to be able to say, private school X is better than public school Y... And therefore, let's use APs to... Let's use testing as this "objective thing."
0:15:32.9 NC: I was gonna say, so much of that dovetails too, with the arguments against the colleges that have gone either test blind or a test optional in the process, because then they say you have to rely on the student's GPAs and well, look at the problems regarding grade inflation, the consistency across those things too. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but when I was thinking about the alternatives and what we could do instead of this, one place that my mind went to was of course, that AP curriculum, which is owned, developed the proprietary intellectual property of the college board. And of course, in order to teach those classes, you have to submit a syllabus that gets approved directly by some poor person at the College Board who has to click through and read and make sure it checks all the boxes and things. And I sat down with my AP Euro curriculum and I actually saw that... This is the post-redesign here that it purports to teach, what, six historical thinking skills, three reasoning processes across nine units of study spanning 570 years and seven themes, and then is assessed over three and a half hours in May using three different writing rubrics and a 55-question, multiple choice test.
0:16:49.8 NC: So when I kind of think of, Well, what could I do instead of... We call that a more rigorous curriculum, but when I look at the students that I have in front of me who are particularly motivated or enthusiastic about learning history or being in my class in particular, I don't know with the reputation that I have in my district, but I sometimes I get a little bit sad, I suppose, about what I could be doing with those kids instead of just trying to hammer through to get to a test in the name of "rigor". How... I could teach an issues and modern nationalism course for dual credit with a community college, rather than trying to box it up and replace it with a generic history survey.
0:17:32.0 NC: So I think rigor is kind of that word at the centerpiece of all of this, and I think one kind of concern is that as testing falls out of favor, post-pandemic and students and schools become more reliant on AP, kind of given the tension there between rigor and equity, as you just talked about in that issue with elitism and differentiating deserving students from less deserving students, what kind of claims does the College Board have to meet those notions that they are providing somewhat of a more rigorous or equitable curriculum for under-served communities. Give them a leg up in that admissions process or replace a curriculum in their home school that lacks that certain kind of rigor. I don't know, what's out there as far as combating that narrative.
0:18:25.0 AB: That's a good question. I think that the ultimate challenge is... I think the problem is the marketing of it, I think that's really the core of the issue, is that when they begin to try to pass off their curriculum as the gold standard, nothing else comes close, all the marketing of it and the selling of it is actually the problem. If you just told me, it's a challenging program, it's a challenging course. Great.
0:19:00.5 AB: But when they start saying, "Taking a test prepares you for college." Then it becomes like, it's just product placement, it's just marketing of a product, so I don't know that I have particular issue with the... I don't have issues with the existence of challenging curriculum. I question whether college board is the right agency to have the position of power that it does, and the gatekeeping authority that it does within... When we're talking about college access. Because even as you were just speaking, talking about elitism and colleges using it more, that's actually a small subset of colleges. I don't know how many, I wonder what percentage give credits for As, or for threes and four versus fives, and I believe that Yale only gives credits for fives, so there's this weird tension between, "No, you have to accumulate all of these things."
0:20:09.0 AB: The accumulation of them cost money. 70% of high schools have some kind of AP program, but the volume and scope of AP that's offered is far greater in private schools and in wealthier districts. You can't buy your way to equity. Anything that cost money, isn't going to solve the problem of inequity. And so college board's expensive AP curriculum, no matter how good it is academically, isn't really going to solve the problem of... In the fancy school district up the street where kids have a disposable $5000 to buy AP prep? Of course, they're gonna pass the test at a higher rate, 'cause they're not just going to class, they're getting an AP tutor, and so there's all of those issues. I was just speaking to a friend yesterday, and he said in her school district, the teacher of, I wanna say it's AP Physics, has his own thing he does, and he gets kids to fives all the time, and then the end of that conversation was, "And they've been taking practice tests since December." And I'm like, "What? Huh? Wait, what?" Since December to May, they've been taking weekly or something like that, AP practice, that's not a rigorous curriculum, that's test prep.
0:21:28.8 AB: And so of course they pass at a higher rate 'cause they're doing a ton of test prep, and that shouldn't be... That to me kills the value of the program, 'cause now it's not about enriched academic experience, it's not about a more thoughtful academic process and learning to think and all that, it's about test prep. So these challenges that it brings up when you're thinking about what is the purpose of it and what does it do and who does it serve?
0:21:56.5 NC: I wanna add to this as well, the kind of monopoly that the College Board has on that curriculum in terms of the people who are allowed to give an input into what that curriculum looks like, and thinking then again, what college credit is awarded for which AP courses, again to give a credit, college credit for a course like AP European History, which might be taught in a place that is... The vast majority of students are like non-white or of non-European backgrounds, and not have the option to take a similarly designed or similarly rigorous program that is actually designed by local stakeholders with input from parents and the community, and with students too. I think about the things that we choose to give those college credit to, and who designs those programs compared to the other wonderful set of things that we can actually have students accomplishing, say, out in the community, or having kids run and design, say their own film projects or all the other kinds of things that you can't submit for them the similar kinds of college credits, but, again, if you do AP test prep for six months in the lead up to an advance... The exam and get a four or a five, we're gonna call that good, and that'll take care of some of your electives there.
0:23:14.4 AB: So one of fun things in terms that you're saying about which class they selected in that initial AP meeting report that... And it's funny, 'cause College Board published this in one of their magazines like, "Here's the history of the AP program and the first meeting that happened." I think, if I remember properly, it was like the language is that they chose in the beginning, it was like, no Spanish, but Latin because basically they said Spanish was for the plebes. Alright. Of course you did. I was like, "Latin and Greek, not Spanish because, you know."
0:23:50.6 NC: And then even the AP European History is a hold over from that same line of thinking about Western civilization or a classical education, being upheld compared to all other kinds, and even a class like AP Comparative Government doesn't have anywhere near the numbers of test-takers than APUSH or AP Euro does, at least in the Humanities, 'cause I'm just speaking within my own wheelhouse here, I don't know about Lits and Langs, and Physics and Computer Science, but it's so interesting. So I wonder then, How do we break that stranglehold, how do we overcome the gatekeepers, how do we... I wanna say the language that I've heard in the past is how do we crash the gates, How do we...
0:24:34.7 NC: And really the shift is about power, it's about putting power back in the hands of the educators in the classroom who know their students the best, into communities who know their schools the best, and what's gonna work for their kids, not what's gonna work for the College Board board of directors making six or seven figures, however much they do, at a school far away. How do we crash the gates and take the power back?
0:25:01.0 AB: Yeah, that's hard, because I think that there's systemic issues, we've been sold for several hundred years a particular definition of academic accomplishment, of what's quality and what isn't, and there is those who want to uphold that system where Latin is valued, but Spanish isn't. On the other side of that, that system also led us to huge problems with segregation and particular schools not getting stuff, and testing did expose some of that, and testing does expose, "Hey, these places are struggling", or at least struggling by this definition.
0:25:49.1 AB: So how do you balance those two contrary things where there is value to exposing that if we're holding out Algebra 2 as the metric of success, this school hasn't passed this Algebra 2 test in the same rate as this other school, that's fair, 'cause if we let them just administer the test locally and they didn't teach Algebra 2 in that school, they just taught Algebra 1, you'll never find that out. For me, I think the biggest or one of the problems is the way we talk about those things. I think one of the problems, especially in testing is it's been equated to ability, aptitude, all of these things that have eugenicist origins and language to it. I would have far fewer problems if like, you get a one in the AP it means, "Hey, it's probably a bunch of stuff you weren't taught." There would be very little issue with that, but that's not what you get, you get, "Oh, you got a one on the AP, you're not college-ready."
0:26:49.7 AB: You cannot go to an elite school. You're relegated to community college, and that is all of this language that undermines confidence, ability, that doubles down on stereotypes and all of that good stuff. So I think part of the... The easy thing for all adults to do right now is to check themselves with the language they use around what these things... What assessments reveal. Generally speaking, assessments reveal what was taught or how you performed. I've been doing SAT prep for 30 years, I guarantee you that if I take the SAT, a timed full-length SAT right now, 9 out 10 times I'm not getting a perfect score. I'm just not that careful, I'm not that careful in person, if you follow me on Twitter, you know the volume of typos in my tweets, two reasons, one, I don't care.
0:27:49.7 NC: True, fair enough.
0:27:50.9 AB: That's not something I care about, right? And two, that's just not how my mind works. Does that mean I'm not college... What does it mean? It's that I'm not a careful person, fine, if you're gonna say, "Let's take the test on carefulness", guess what he's gonna lose every single time.
0:28:07.8 NC: You get a one, sorry. You get a one on AP readiness.
0:28:12.9 AB: Right? Right, or AP carefulness. I'd probably get a two 'cause I'm not like horrible, but I'm just bad enough to try, "Oh, he just didn't see that huh? Oh yeah, okay, fine."
0:28:25.8 NC: Well, you know, with those scores, you're never gonna be an AP Scholar, you're never gonna be...
0:28:30.4 AB: Just get my certificate. Right, I won't get my... What's the badge they give for having a five on seven APs or whatever the heck it is.
0:28:36.3 NC: Yes, I never think about that. But that just popped into my brain. They do have that hierarchy of scholarship where as you progress through the APS, you kind of unlock the higher titles, I forget what they are, but one of them's gotta be AP Scholar or whatever, and then that distinguishes you yet again from the plebes who got ones and twos on a couple of exams and then decided it wasn't for them.
0:29:00.7 AB: Exactly.
0:29:01.9 NC: I think there is just... Yeah, there's so much danger in, especially telling students, like I teach sophomores who are taking an AP European History class, which is kind of like held up as being one of the most difficult of the AP humanities courses, and it for a lot of kids it breaks my heart because the way I teach the course, just given that it's me and my attitudes about it is really more aligned to get them to experience and love history and really get in there and think like a historian, and then of course, to respect them and their investment and their parent's finances, there's an amount of it that has to be geared towards understanding and being prepared for a test.
0:29:42.3 NC: And that means that you're gonna have an hour to write a document-based question in which you will get seven documents and there's a seven-point rubric, that you have to have a context and a thesis, and you have to do these things with the documents, and of course it's all ludicrous because take any historian and tell them to write an essay about this prompt and then use the AP rubric, it's probably a farce, or take any good piece of historical writing and run it through the rubric and it probably will score very low. So I've made my own controversial statements on the fact that I think teaching kids, training kids to think in a way that scores well on those AP tests, probably is training them to be poor thinkers and writers, and you don't have to agree or disagree with that statement, but...
0:30:25.7 AB: No, I think it's really interesting to me because it's... I wonder about that all the time, is that standardized tests are inherently problematic, if we're talking about critical thinking, we're talking about developing learners and things like that, don't we want the ones that think outside the box? But it's exactly the ones that think outside the box that are challenged on this test. I have students all the time who tell me, "Well, oh, I was looking at the question this way, I thought it meant that", and it's a completely valid point of view, but the test doesn't reward that point of view, and they have evidence for why they're enforcing their particular narrow definition of things.
0:31:02.9 AB: And I've said this a lot to students for SAT is that this isn't a deep test, it actually hurts the deep thinkers, and think about if you're teaching literature, you've been teaching these kids for years to read bright white light in the poem and interpret it as heaven and death and this and that, and you come to the SAT and they say, "Bright white light", they want you to go, "No, no, there was a light, it was bright and it lacked any hues of other colors." So I spent all these years learning to interpret stuff, and now you're telling me I have to take the dumbest, narrowest interpretation of the phrase in front of me, and that's all that's credited. It's weird.
0:31:42.0 NC: And then further, what we were just saying too means, the fact that you might have interpreted that differently then gets you this label of "college-ready" or not, at the ripe old age of 15 or 16, is when they start taking these classes, if you're a sophomore, and the thing that I think I dislike about teaching AP, I love having kids that are motivated and want to choose to be in that class, and I've loved seeing my numbers grow over the years, and I think parents are often really appreciative too of the... Not necessarily the trash that I talk about the College Board, the AP test, but the fact that I know that there's more to it than that, and to try to walk that line pretty carefully. But the thing I hate to see is then students don't go on to take any more humanities classes after mine, or at least elect to take the more...
0:32:34.1 NC: Either more AP classes or don't go into any of the more electives after that because they decide based on their experience in AP European history that maybe humanities aren't for me. Maybe I'm more of a STEM person, or maybe I'm this, that or the other, so they already start to sort themselves by the way that the test or the class made them feel, I only got a two, so therefore I know that I'm not cut out for this. For 15 and 16-year-olds, we're gonna put them in that narrow of a box because they didn't perform well on a test on some day in May when they were 16 years old, I'm out.
0:33:08.0 AB: Which is really interesting, 'cause College Board has this weird dichotomy of what are they going to promote and how. The newest advertisement, which I've been laughing at, is they've been running this campaign that no matter what you score on a AP test, it's still... I wanna say they say "valuable" or it still indicates college, all of a sudden they produce research that said like, a one or a two is some measure of college readiness or something, which is fascinating, 'cause it's like, Wait a minute, the lowest possible score in your test... 'Cause a one could mean, I walked in the room, wrote my name and scribbled some lines and then left, and so now, because they... And to me, it feels like, and I don't know this from real, so I'm making assertions here, but it feels like 'cause they wanna expand the use of the product, they've decided that the pitch is "Just do it, take the test, pay the money, it's all good."
0:34:06.0 NC: Yes.
0:34:07.7 AB: And then... And on top of it, jeez... This is why I end up with like, "College Board is evil." [chuckle] Every time you turn around, their decision-making seems to be about money, not education, when they claim that the 20-minute micro-APs were equivalent to the three-hour APs during the pandemic. Let's juxtapose them, 'cause I don't hate all tests, I don't think they're all bad, but the decision from the IB organization, we just can't get them, there's no way to give a comparable test under the conditions that currently exist, IB is like, "Yep, we just letting it go, we can't do it, it doesn't make any sense." College Board is like, "Nope, I can slap something together with some chicken wire and spit, and I can create a 45-minute test that is equivalent to the three-hour test, even though you're taking it at home." Not that standardized.
0:35:04.2 NC: We'll MacGyver your college entrance exam.
0:35:06.4 AB: And then they go to college and make sure the college will take the credit for it. And all of those sort of behaviors just make me question the motivating factors behind this decision-making. At every point to me where it seems there could be a decision that's financially motivated or a better decision or a different decision that would foster better educational outcomes. It always seems to be the one that leads to the greatest financial value for College Board. What value is there for students in making the deadline to sign up for the AP in October, November, wherever the hell they put it, they're not helping students. What did it add to the discourse that College Board's president came out after the Parkland shooting and said, "Oh yeah, remember the speech the girl made? She mentioned AP." That's really what we need. But yet, College Board won't come out, ever, when someone misuses scores, North Carolina put out a study that said more than six AP classes don't mean anything to us, it's not particularly indicative of college readiness, this and that. College Board never said a peep as far as I know, about whether that limit should be held to across other colleges, they're not encouraging students to take fewer APs because beyond a certain number isn't particularly good and blah, blah, they don't do that, but at every opportunity to push it and say, "Look, AP is lovely." They take that tag.
0:36:37.9 NC: It's almost like a marketing and branding company that is the front for a testing company, or the testing is the front for the marketing maybe is the more apt way to put it, it's hard not to kinda get stuck in sort of a doom loop, I think about it. With my context being an AP European History teacher and knowing that every day I have to kinda humanize that curriculum and humanize that for the students that are just in front of me, there's some things that are not changeable but at a systemic level, but I can at least make that process a partnership with the kids in my room. But then, yeah, at the systems level, and also understanding that that's what I'm feeding them into that at the same time, so yes, we will kind of diverge and we'll focus on the historical thinking and getting your energy and enthusiasm and doing projects that detract from the curriculum and a timeline that's set by the College Board and whatnot, but then at the end of the day, coming back and making sure that they understand the seven-point rubric, so they can get the good score.
0:37:41.7 AB: It would be really interesting for me to see what happens to AP programs if the test just goes away, if it was just the curriculum, if you got credit for taking the class in college rather than credit for a particular score on the test, and I have never taken one of the tests, and I don't have as much issues with the test as I do the SAT, 'cause at least the AP is only scored in a 5-point scale, which is also interesting, so that SAT has 120 different points of distinction 'cause it gives 120 different scores, and it covers multiple years of curriculum. You're talking about darn... In math, let's say, it's eight through 11, AP covers one year, so narrower curriculum, but they only have four points of distinction, something doesn't... You're telling me that one product is highly more... The SAT is highly more fine-tuned, we can tell you with 120 points of distinction, the difference between students. I'd have many fewer problems with the SAT if it was scored in the AP scale, I actually kind of like the AP scale, 'cause it sort of says, "We're not going to pretend we can make huge distinction between kids."
0:38:52.2 NC: Sure.
0:38:53.0 AB: I kinda like that, but it's just interesting to watch how all these products align and how so much of it boils back down to marketing.
0:39:04.2 NC: Is there like a silver lining?
0:39:06.8 NC: I just don't wanna be a bummer, How do we change the damn thing? If you had to wave a magic wand and say, Hey, college... This is probably a question you get all the time Akil, but if you had to re-design it in a way that you would think would reach through accessibility and equity and also meet the demands that we have for students to just be prepared to exist in the world as competent adults. What kinda changes would you make on that admissions process, either at the gates or kind of before them, or I don't know? What is that picture like in your mind?
0:39:44.4 AB: It would probably do like a 10-year pause and all the testing. Just the testing part of it. Like no SAT, no AP tests. I don't know, five-year pause just to take that test focus out of their curriculum. Imagine if you didn't have to worry about, Can I get them to a three, four, or five on the AP and you just got to teach the curriculum?
0:40:06.8 AB: [chuckle] That just changes the game, right? That changes the game.
0:40:10.8 AB: So I would really be interested in seeing that. I think it would also be things like maybe put some limitations on how many APs can be taken, just so that the Hunger Games-ness of it all goes away. That you're not trying to kill the student next to you, so that you have one more AP than him, so that you can potentially secure the spot of this place instead of that place. I think that we would do things that encourage education and the quest for learning over the quest for test scores and admission. And I think that for families, what they have to do is sort of refocus that to the extent that you can make the decisions that lead towards greater educational value rather than the gamesmanship of admissions. And I'll admit, again, I live in the contradiction, so I'll fully admit that I just made... Me and my son, who was in 10th grade, we just had the same conversation. We're choosing classes for next year, it was, are we gonna do this AP class? Or are we gonna do this other class? I wanted him to do... I feel like it was data analytics or something like that. Something that was statistics-ish, because he's leaning towards business and marketing and journalism and those types of things, not STEM.
0:41:29.8 AB: So why AP Calculus? But it's like, But AP looks better for college. I never want that conversation for a family. Let's just do this because it aligns with what you wanna do with your life and your interests, but it's hard because we still live in that system. So I think my magic wand would break down all of the links between the educational decisions that you have to make, and the gamesmanship of, "Will I improve my odds of getting into college X and potentially getting money for college X?" That would be my magic wand. The upshot of it is, if you ignore the noise around it is, I mean, going to school and learning stuff is pretty cool... [chuckle] Like well, I as a policy would prefer a private company not control the curriculum, I kinda think that, you know, there's... If we step back and say, rigorous curriculum, learning stuff, I kinda like that. So it's not all bad... [chuckle] just from that perspective, take classes where you learn stuff and it challenges you, well, yeah, that's cool. Right? I think we should do that when we can. As long as we can control how much stakes are put on it, how crazy the outcomes are, how obsessive we are about perfection because of the opportunities that perfection opened the door to.
0:43:00.7 NC: Well said. Well, thanks Akil for sitting down and chat with me here.
0:43:05.7 AB: My pleasure.