Revising the Social Studies Advanced Placement Courses

By Megan Landvatter, Current Staff

Changes in Advanced Placement structure have shaken up a few classrooms at the West Bend High Schools.

The College Board has made recent changes to the AP U.S. Government and Politics course for this school year, with more changes on the way for other classes. These changes narrow the amount of information tested during the exam in May.

The largest change on the exam is the written portion. Previously, students and teachers alike did not know what the four essays would be about. Now, there are only three essays—one with qualitative data, one with a Supreme Court case and one with an argumentative essay. This means teachers can focus on specific issues, such as the 15 required Supreme Court cases that could be tested on, instead of covering as much as possible.

“You had to know all sorts of stuff, but not very much about any of them,” said East social studies teacher Dave Talma, who teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics. “What’s important when you leave here is, can you think? I think that’s where the College Board is going with these changes, is that it’s better overall preparation for life after school.”

Along with the changes to the essay portion of the exam, the multiple choice section now contains 55 questions in 80 minutes instead of its previous 60 questions in 45 minutes. This gives more time for analysis-based questions compared to information-based questions, such as providing definitions for vocabulary terms.

However, the College Board has not provided as many resources that some teachers may find necessary as they adapt to the new analysis-based system.

“We’re dependent on the College Board to share examples and samples with us and I haven’t seen much yet,” Talma said.

“What’s important when you leave here is, can you think?”
– Dave Talma, East social studies teacher

“(AP) Gov has a lot more vocab and the FRQs are a little bit differently formatted from the other classes I’m taking,” said East senior Rachel Roeber, who took AP U.S. Government and Politics last year, prior to the changes.

Similar testing changes have occurred in AP European History and AP U.S. History, with future changes coming for AP World History.

For the 2019-2020 school year, the College Board is also changing AP World History. These changes, similar to AP U.S. Government and Politics, will narrow the amount of information being tested on the exam in May. However, some teachers have been upset with the major cuts to the curriculum, including West AP World History teacher Nicole Di Bernardo.

The College Board had originally decided in June to change the focus of the class to 1400 to the present, cutting out everything before that. This removed many major ancient civilizations in Asia, Africa, Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, as well as hunting and gathering.

“A lot of teachers, including myself, were concerned that students were going to miss a lot of those building block civilizations, and history that puts later history in context,” Di Bernardo said.

In July, the College Board gave in slightly and adjusted the curriculum to cover 1200 to the present, which still removes many major civilizations. To compensate, the College Board is adding an AP World History: Ancient course, which will cover everything before 1200 and make the system similar to many colleges, which usually offer two different world history classes.

DiBernardo is unsure if WBHS will add a second AP World History class, as there has only been enough student interest for one class of the current course and student interest for a second offering is unknown.

(Top image: West sophomore Kate Nielson works on polling data in West social studies teacher Mark Drake’s third period AP U.S. Government and Politics class on November 7, 2018. Photo by Megan Landvatter, Current Staff.)

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