Compromising on a Timeline for History

College Board backtracks on plan to begin the AP World History exam in the year 1450, saying it will now begin in 1200.

July 19, 2018
 

Responding to criticism of its earlier plan to begin the Advanced Placement World History exam around the year 1450, the College Board on Wednesday announced that it would begin the test with questions starting at about 1200.

The board also committed to offering a second AP world history course focused on the ancient world, in another apparent compromise to those who said that a single world history course focused on the modern era risked being too Eurocentric.

Currently, the single AP World History exam covers about 10,000 years. While some teachers like the scope of the exam, others say that it is simply too sweeping and that real learning suffers as a result. Taking the concerns of that latter group into account, the board, which administers the AP program, said earlier this year that it would limit the exam to questions about content from 1450 onward.

But criticism followed, with educators charging that eliminating the study of ancient civilizations meant erasing the test’s -- and therefore the AP World History course’s -- non-European content. Not only would that be a loss for education, they said, but also for nonwhite students who saw themselves reflected in the study of diverse peoples.

“The current AP World History course and exam attempt to cover 10,000 years of human history -- from the Paleolithic Era to the present,” the board said in its Wednesday announcement, summing up the problem. In contrast, it said, “colleges manage the unique breadth of world history by spreading the content across multiple courses. Because AP World History does not do so, a majority of AP World History teachers have told us that they were teaching too little about too much. Students’ essay scores on the end-of-year AP exam have reflected that overwhelming challenge.”

Since the announcement about the 1450 timeline, which was meant “to alleviate that problem, we’ve received thoughtful, principled feedback from AP teachers, students and college faculty,” the board said. “This feedback underscores that we share the same priorities: engaging students in the rich histories of civilizations across the globe and ensuring that such important content is given the time it deserves.”

What's Included?

The new 1200 starting point means “teachers and students can begin the course with a study of the civilizations in Africa, the Americas and Asia that are foundational to the modern era,” the board added.

Essential content for the 1200-1450 period includes global trade networks; state building in the Americas and Africa; how religion shaped Africa, Asia and Europe; and the intellectual, scientific and technological innovations and transfers across states and empires, according to the board.

Regarding the proposed second exam and course, AP World History: Ancient, the board said it must first “confirm the willingness of colleges to award credit for an additional AP world history exam and the interest among high schools to offer two full, separate AP world history courses.”

The American Historical Association weighed in on the debate in June, arguing that a 1450 start date would likely reduce the precolonial content to which high school students were exposed and increase the course's Western-centric perspective. The association urged the board to consult leading practitioners in the field before making any final decision. Mary Beth Norton, Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University and president of the association, said Wednesday that it was her personal opinion that "the key point is to have sufficient time before 1450 for teachers to address world historical developments prior to European exploration and expansion." And a start date of 1200 "should accomplish that goal," she said. "I appreciate the responsiveness to critics shown by this change."

The 1200-forward timeline was one idea floated by the board's AP World History test-development committee, which includes college and university faculty members. Rachel Jean Baptiste, associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis, and co-chair of that committee, said the 1200 decision “allows students to gain global perspectives and knowledge that come with studying the rich and interconnected histories of African, Asian, Central American and European civilizations so they can engage more deeply in these topics once they get to college.”

Referring to the development committee, she said, “I’m glad to see that [the board] has taken our guidance to heart.” The added commitment to developing a second course is a “signal to both students and educators that studying a fuller breadth of world history facilitates a more nuanced understanding of the world in which we live.”

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