Advanced Placement history outline focus of debate

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Conservative activists say a new outline for the Advanced Placement U.S. history course shows an anti-American bias by either downplaying or omitting the country's most heroic figures and military victories.

But the executive who leads the College Board's Advanced Placement program said critics misinterpret the framework's purpose. It's not a laundry list of names and events for students to learn, and neither was the previous one, senior vice president Trevor Parker told an Education Oversight Committee panel Monday.

"The new framework does not remove any names at all. Neither does the old framework mention any names," he said in a phoned-in presentation.

The expanded outline, rolled out this year, is meant to give teachers a better idea of the concepts that students in the elective, college-level course should explore, while individual teachers and state standards determine what is taught, Parker said.

In South Carolina, all high schoolers take an end-of-course U.S. history test that makes up 20 percent of their total grade, no matter which U.S. history course they take. That test is based on state standards. How students perform on the AP test is not part of their grade.

"It's my classroom and my state standards," Susan Baumann, a long-time AP U.S. history teacher at Richland Northeast High, told panel members. "I have the right or autonomy to decide what's covered and decide what my students do."

The goal of the redesigned AP U.S. framework, in the works since 2006, is to get students to think critically using historical materials, Parker said.

One such key concept for World War II says "the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values." Conservative critics have panned it, but Parker said its purpose is to spur critical discussion.

"It's students' responsibility to support, refine or challenge that claim using evidence they study," Parker said. "A student receives as many points arguing either way, if they use historic evidence their state requires them to learn."

The College Board plans to issue new instructions next week to help clear up the confusion, he said.

Activists wanted the Education Oversight Committee to adopt a resolution calling on the College Board to rewrite the framework so that it "accurately reflects U.S. history without an ideological bias."

The framework "reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation's history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects," the proposed resolution reads.

The panel took no action. Subcommittee vice chairman Neil Robinson noted the agency has no authority over the Advanced Placement framework or the test.

"The only thing we have to do with AP at all is recommendations on funding" in the budget, he said.

Advanced Placement courses offer high school students a chance to earn college credit, if they earn a high enough score on the AP exam. The classes, generally taken by juniors and seniors, are designed to be rigorous and help them transition to college. U.S. history is the second-most-popular AP course in South Carolina, with 4,800 exams taken in 2013; 54 percent of students posted scores eligible for college credit. Each passing test translates to an average savings of $2,200 at a public, four-year college in South Carolina, according to the EOC.

State Sen. Mike Fair, an EOC member who questioned the framework, said he's a strong supporter of the Advanced Placement program, and he foresees no problem with the Legislature continuing to fund the tests. But he said he wants to learn more about the new U.S. history framework.

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