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Expanding the Scope of Advanced Placement Classes

Hispanic educators launch an effort to create an AP Latin American History course.

Dr. Paul Dosal of the University of South Florida is not impressed with the way most high school students learn about Latin American history.

“Latin American history pops up only when America goes to war,” Dosal says.

Dosal believes an advanced placement course in the subject will change that. He’s the executive director of ENLACE Florida, a statewide network funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, designed to increase the number of underrepresented college graduates by creating programs and partnerships between local school districts and universities statewide. In Florida ENLACE stands for ENgaging Latino, African-American and other Communities for Education.

ENLACE Florida presented its proposal in May at the Prepárate: Educating Latinos for the Future of America Conference organized by the College Board in Chicago. The proposed Advanced Placement Latin American History course and exam would cover the history of Latin American Republics from 1492 to the present, including art history, literature, music and language.

Dosal used Sunshine State statistics as a foundation for the course’s relevance. Hispanics represent 20 percent of the state’s population. That’s expected to increase to 25 percent by 2030. U.S. Department of Commerce data show 60 percent of Florida’s exports are destined for Latin America and the Caribbean. W h i l e Florida numbers are the backbone of ENLACE’s pitch, Dosal says students in every state can benefit from this course.

“We’re helping students to prepare to enter the global economy,” Dosal says. “It’s important for them to know a language if they want to go into business and trade with a region … and even better if they know the culture and history.”

“I thought it was a great presentation,” says Dr. Luis Martínez-Fernández, a professor of history at the University of Central Florida and member of the Academic Advisory Committee for History at the College Board. “I think the interdisciplinary nature of what they presented was very appealing and something appealing to teachers and students.”

According to the College Board, in 2007 over 300,000 Hispanic students took at least one AP exam, the last year for which data is available. In the past five years, the number of Hispanic students who earned scores of 3 or higher on an AP exam increased by 53 percent, from 62,262 in 2002 to 95,116 in 2007.

Hispanics made up 14.6 percent of the high school student population nationwide, but 13.6 percent of AP students in 2007. However, Hispanic students made up 55 percent of students in AP Spanish, but were underrepresented in most AP courses. In 36 states, the percentage of Latino students scoring at least a 3 on AP exams fell short of their representation in the student body. For example, in Arizona, Hispanics made up 31.1 percent of the student body, but just 17.6 percent of Hispanic students earned a 3 or higher, according to “The 4th Annual AP Report to the Nation.”

Among the 37 AP courses currently available to students, three are history courses: U.S. history, European history and world history. Trevor Packer, College Board executive director for the Advanced Placement Program, says teachers have the flexibility to focus on a variety of perspectives, from ethnic, racial, gender and socioeconomic groups.

“I think the College Board would be eager to embrace the opportunity to provide such a course (as Latin American history), but we need to hear there’s a need for it,” Packer says.

Advocates for a new AP Latin American History course and exam can present a proposal at a regional forum, and the College Board will gauge the interest of colleges, universities and high schools. Packer says if there’s enough interest, a national poll will be conducted. If it meets sufficient interest levels nationally, the College Board will seek project funding.

Last year, two new AP courses were introduced — Chinese Language and Culture and Japanese Language and Culture. It took three years to create the courses, train teachers and offer them to students, according to Packer.

If or when a need for AP Latin American History is established, Dosal and members of ENLACE have offered to help create the curriculum and exam. He realizes the process is in its infancy and that the timing may be off to push for a new course.

The College Board estimates it invested 400 percent more resources for AP Italian Language and Culture than it originally committed. But the lack of interest and participation from schools, teachers and students means the 2009 exam for AP Italian Language and Culture will be the last, unless external partners come forward with additional funding.

The 2009 AP exam will also be the last for French Literature, Latin Literature and Computer Science AB.

Despite the course cuts, Dosal says ENLACE will proceed — cautiously.

“It will probably take a few years, but we’ll keep on it. We’ve sunk our teeth into it, and we’ll keep them in,” Dosal says.

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