“Isn’t this an AP?” I responded. I was somewhat confused. After all, the class was called Advanced Placement (AP) World History.
Last spring, the social studies department rationalized that since the sophomore World History curriculum was already more challenging than that of the Regents and similar to that of the AP, making the course an AP would benefit students by giving them an opportunity to earn college credit without significantly altering the way the course was taught.
Unfortunately, the course has not turned out to be as rigorous as an AP should be. Consequently, many students do not feel ready to take the AP World History Exam, as illustrated by the fact that only 328 out of 657 eligible students registered to take it. Nonetheless, there are many steps the social studies department can take to improve the course for next year.
Instead of relying too heavily on multiple choice tests like they do now, AP World teachers should also assess students with essays. One must write three essays on the AP World Exam, and they count for half of its grade. I have only written one essay in history this year, which leaves me unprepared for this section of the test. This is unacceptable as the class should familiarize students for the format of the exam. Critical feedback on essays written in or out of class would help students succeed on the exam’s essay section.
Part of an AP class is teaching in accordance with the AP curriculum. However, Stuyvesant’s AP World classes are disproportionately Eurocentric. Twenty-two of the 37 chapters in the current textbook used by AP World classes, “World History: Perspectives on the Past,” focus exclusively on Europe.
In contrast, test prep review books indicate that European history makes up a comparatively small part of the material covered by the AP curriculum. Only seven of the 34 chapters in “Barron’s AP World History” describe events in the history of Europe. As a result, many topics covered in depth by “Barron’s,” such as the Atlantic Slave Trade, are hardly mentioned in class.
In addition, failure to comply with the AP curriculum has resulted in too much time being spent on topics that will not be included on the AP exam. Intricate details of a topic such as the Russian Revolution, which are covered in depth in AP World Classes, are not even mentioned by “Barron’s.” While these topics may be important, excessive focus on them detracts from the ability of the course to prepare students for the exam.
While changes need to be made, teachers should avoid merely teaching to the test. Although the course is meant to prepare students for the AP exam, its primary purpose is to ensure a positive learning experience. The creativity of both teachers and students must not be stifled just so students can score high on the test. A middle ground must be found—assigning more essays and reducing the amount of Western bias will both increase test preparation and enhance the educational experience.
The social studies department needs to reconsider making the AP course mandatory. In every class, there are students who want to learn at the AP level and students who don’t. To teach the course at the AP level is not fair for students who are not interested in history and don’t plan to take the AP Exam. As a result, teachers water down the AP curriculum, catering to those students’ lack of motivation. This in turn is not fair to the others who are taking the exam and want to learn at the AP level. To solve this problem, AP World History should remain as an option alongside AP European History, but a non-AP history course should be available to sophomores as well. This was not an entirely failed experiment, but it should not be forced upon the students.
The teachers of AP World History taught the material well, facilitated interesting discussions and assigned creative and fun projects. Nevertheless, I do not feel as if this course did everything within its capacity to prepare me for the AP exam. Stuyvesant’s social studies department has indeed learned the hard way that sticking two letters in front of a course’s name does not make it more challenging.