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Should African Americans Trust the College Board with African American Studies?

Dr Ivory A Toldson 65d79ca659141

The College Board's decision to revise its African American Studies curriculum has come under fire from many who argue that the changes are motivated by political pressure rather than pedagogical considerations. The new curriculum, which is stripped of much of the subject matter that the DeSantis administration opposed, has been criticized for erasing the experiences of Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, reparations, the queer experience, and Black feminism.

Education is a center of much vitriolic partisan debate in America. However, David Coleman, head of The College Board, insists that the changes were not due to political pressure. He has stated that the revisions were made after input from professors and in accordance with "longstanding A.P. principles." ETS supported the College Board. Whether or not one believes that the changes to the African American Studies curriculum are justified, it is clear that they will have far-reaching implications for the way that race is taught in America.  Dr. Ivory A. ToldsonDr. Ivory A. Toldson

Although the College Board has significantly expanded its AP courses over the past two decades, they have not effectively addressed longstanding racial equity issues. Despite the broad availability of AP courses, lower-income communities are still less likely to offer them than those in more affluent areas and Black students are consistently underrepresented even where availability is not an issue. The gap between exam scores among different racial groups has grown since 2003, highlighting a lack of resources and support for some student populations.

Studies have uncovered various systemic factors that continue to impede equitable access to AP classes. This includes low expectations from teachers or counselors about a student's ability to succeed in advanced classes, funding constraints for offering such classes, inadequate support for faculty development, and exclusionary policies like pre-requisites or grade cutoffs. Furthermore, students from certain backgrounds may also be unable to take up the opportunity due to lack of the information networks or financial resources required for AP exams. 

Historical Context 

The SAT and ACT, standardized tests used to measure aptitude for learning in college admissions, have a racist history rooted in the 19th century influx of immigrants into the United States.

Carl Brigham was a psychologist and eugenicist who believed African Americans were on the low end of the racial and cultural spectrum. He argued that education system would decline with an "accelerating rate" as intermingling between races increased. 

The SAT debuted in 1926 while Lewis Terman developed IQ tests based off Alfred Binet’s work during World War I when intelligence tests helped place 1.5 million soldiers segregated by race and test scores. These sparked the rapid expansion of school testing movement across the United States.

By 1930 multiple-choice exams were entrenched within schools, sparking debate about their content being racist or biased towards memorization and guessing. Harvard adopted testing in 1934 to select scholarship recipients followed by many other institutions. This led to its widespread acceptance today despite criticism from researchers and media reports regarding biasness due its roots in pseudo science like eugenics championed by bigots such as Brigham.

Despite efforts from the College Board to pivot and present it instead as a means for finding underprivileged students, modern science has proven that functional and diverse intelligence scaled. The struggle between diversity and the SAT continues today; while research universities remain largely unchanged after 50 years with professors focused more on course requirements than teaching methods or testing analytical skills, debates rage over whether or not colleges should drop their requirement for SAT/ACT scores.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers the SAT, has been accused of racism since its inception. In 1901, the Board was created in order to standardize college admissions across the United States. However, from the very beginning, the Board has been dominated by wealthy white men who have used it to advantage themselves and their families.

For example, early on the Board decided that only students who could afford to pay for the SAT would be able to take it. This effectively prevented poor and working-class students from being able to attend college. In addition, the Board has been slow to change the test to reflect the changing demographics of the United States. For example, until recently the test included questions that favored white male students such as those related to country clubs or yacht racing. 

The College Board has also been accused of using the SAT as a way to maintain class divisions in society. Critics argue that the SAT is really just a tool for rich kids to get into college and that it does nothing to level the playing field for poor and working-class students. In fact, studies have shown that there is little correlation between SAT scores and success in college or in life. 

Despite ongoing debate and evidence that suggest otherwise, the College Board's SAT continues to remain a major factor in college admissions decisions. Colleges are unwilling to deviate from what they have done traditionally, while some maintain that test scores serve as valid measures of academic ability. Regardless, it is evident any attempt to promote diversity within higher education must confront this long-standing history and its associated debates.

Repercussions for African Americans  

The failure of the College Board to respond properly to Governor DeSantis' objections to the AP African American Studies course reveals an apathy to Black activism. Their response was not only insulting to those fighting against anti-CRT policymakers, but it also perpetuates the systemic racism that pervades American education. 

It is particularly egregious that an entity such as the College Board would capitulate to political pressure, while denying they had done so. The college board remained silent while Black activists were defending the curriculum, and then undermined and placated their activism with a premature release of a toned-down final curriculum. In doing so, they are complicit in reinforcing racist and oppressive power dynamics that contribute to inequality in higher education access. 

The indifference to systemic racism the College Board displayed serves as a reminder of why we cannot trust them with African American Studies. Beyond the content, the process, procedures and placement of the course within the current system, will do little to help dismantle oppression. Until the College Board takes responsibility for their role in perpetuating discrimination and inequality, they will continue to be complicit in creating an unfair educational system for African Americans.

Fighting for Equity within Education System

The educational system in the United States has been, and still is, subject to gross levels of racial discrimination and oppression. Fair assessment is essential to achieving true education equity. Unfortunately, the College Board, recognizing its long-standing reign as the uncontested leader of standardized testing in this country, has failed to develop assessments free from racial bias and geared toward providing equitable opportunities for all students.

For more than a century, the College Board has successfully manipulated public perception to perpetuate false notions of intelligence and achievement. Through political maneuvering and instituting frameworks based on outdated eugenic theories, they have convinced society that test success determines worthiness for academic opportunity; thus creating an environment where students born into privilege are deemed smarter. The validity of their flawed products is not supported by science - only power-hungry elites benefit from these prejudiced ideals.

Not achieving the desired scores on standardized tests can be an immense source of stress, amidst internalization and external expectations. This false narrative that low test results determines a lack in potential remains pervasive despite countless successful examples to challenge such views. As someone who has personally confronted this stigma, I implore those completely satisfied by these concocted measures reconsider their stance. It is not only our capabilities, but also resources - or rather restrictions- which impedes us from reaching for greater heights.

The College Board’s commitment to equity has been woefully inadequate, and its decisions demonstrate a tone-deafness toward the suffering of the Black community. The “adversity score" in 2019 and anti-woke AP African American studies class for 2023 are examples of this callous indifference to race issues. Just like CEO Coleman tried to convince us that the AP curriculum is not influenced by politics, the AP African American studies course will try to convince us that Black child activists with Baldwin and hooks in tow, know less about African American studies than the honor student who can memorize and recite disjointed and disconnected facts about Black history.

African Americans deserve better.

Dr. Ivory A. Toldson is the national director of Education Innovation and Research for the NAACP. He is also a professor of counseling psychology at Howard University and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Negro Education.  

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