By Aneesh Karuppur (VI)
Some time back, I wrote a commentary regarding AP-designation courses at Pingry, and how Pingry ought to consider phasing them out. Given the events of the past few weeks, I would like to update that message: I feel that it is now imprudent for Pingry to offer AP Courses, and I hope that this transition occurs as soon as possible.
This might seem like a bit of a dramatic change––I admit that perhaps my last commentary was less vicious towards the College Board. However, the coronavirus has exposed some of the concerns that before, we could only hypothesize about. Our current situation demonstrates that the College Board is ineffective, unnecessary, and has been abusing its monopolistic status over testing.
Colleges and universities have begun showing the same attitudes towards the College Board’s standardized test products. Almost every school will be test-optional for the upcoming admissions season, if they were not already. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced in March that it would refuse to consider SAT Subject Tests outright for future admissions seasons as well. As colleges emphasize “holistic admissions” and considering “the whole person,” it’s clear that traditional exam-based metrics are being relegated to first-round screening of applicants rather than acting as deciding factors.
I agree wholeheartedly with those decisions. I have forgotten much of the material that I crammed for my AP World History exam last year; meanwhile, the information that I learned in Pingry’s World History 9 and 10 classes still stays with me. I have no appreciation for AP exams other than the fact that colleges take them as proof of introductory-level course completion. In fact, I feel animosity towards the College Board for their insistence that the exams demonstrate understanding rather than memorization; I have found that their exams are based around limited interpretations and memorized facts, despite their pretensions.
The coronavirus has only demonstrated how embarrassingly pointless College Board’s exams, particularly the APs, have become. The shortened 45-minute exams include a maximum of two questions, with many exams only having one single essay question. In addition, not only do this year’s exam exclude large chunks of material due to their truncated nature, but the College Board has axed the final few units from the accompanying AP Courses. Classes that strictly follow those courses learn less and still demonstrate only a fraction of that knowledge on the exam.
The College Board insists that they have worked with colleges to consider these new AP Exams as course credit, but I am extremely doubtful of that. Take the AP Physics Mechanics exam: why should any college consider a two-question exam that covers probably half of the learned units, not to mention the complete removal of orbital and simple harmonic motion, as equivalent to a full year of introductory physics? In any case, the normal AP Courses are not at the level of rigor as a college course––how could a truncated version carry any semblance of the same value? The College Board refuses to answer these questions properly or honestly.
Moreover, the College Board has done a less-than-satisfactory job of administering the online exams. Countless students––including many at Pingry––have watched their exams refuse to submit through the AP testing system. Beyond that, the College Board sent out a broken makeup test link; after outrage online, they fixed it, but didn’t bother to update anyone or even apologize. Meanwhile, they’ve been posting tone-deaf Tweets about catching cheaters, while upstanding students are left to wait several weeks just to learn whether they’re eligible for the makeup exam. And, despite the fact that the exam is a quarter of the length that it was before, College Board is charging full price ($94) and will take longer to grade the exams than normal.
All of this stems from the fact that College Board’s AP is essentially unchallenged in the market for class-based, subject-specific standardized tests. Its only competitor is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Most schools offer either one or the other; few offer both, meaning that most students don’t have a choice as to which advanced courses they can take. Their quasi-monopoly over such schools has allowed them to offer lower-quality products while remaining unchallenged, as it’s very difficult for a school to suddenly switch from AP to IB. While the IB program has cancelled their exams, the AP system forged ahead in their revolutionary product of mismanagement and terrible user experience.
As a final note, Pingry doesn’t benefit from boasting about the number of AP courses or exams it offers. Pingry’s curriculum highly restricts when and which AP Courses students can take. For example, all students must take the Biology-Chemistry sequence in the first two years, while other schools (including public schools) allow students to take AP Chemistry or AP Biology much earlier. Pingry doesn’t offer AP World History, AP Environmental Science, AP Human Geography, AP Research, or AP Seminar courses; for the latter two, I can’t recall a single Pingry student who has taken those exams. Thus, since Pingry already does not fully conform to the AP program, we should be able to do away with AP Courses with few qualms. If teachers can design curricula that have real-world value, rather than dedicate time to an increasingly obsolete test, all members of the community will benefit. The AP Exams can be offered as independent signups for those students who wish to take them.
The College Board has nothing to lose by remaining aloof and ignorant of students’ and teachers’ frustrations. I hope that Pingry can join other independent schools in abandoning the AP for good.