DeSantis says he could do away with AP courses altogether. Here’s what that means for Florida students.

The Palm Beach Post | By Alia Wong, USA Today | February 14, 2023

Florida’s Republican governor condemned the College Board in recent weeks over a new AP African American Studies course, calling it indoctrination and lacking in educational value.

This week Ron DeSantis went even further, suggesting the state could find an alternative to the College Board, the nonprofit entity that administers the AP program as well as other crucial components in the college admissions process, including the SAT and PSAT exams.

“Nobody elected (the College Board) to anything,” DeSantis said during an appearance to talk about “woke” banking practices. “They’re just …  providing services, and so you can either utilize those services or not. They have provided these AP courses for a long time, but … there are probably some other vendors who may be able to do that job as good or maybe even a lot better.” 

The skepticism of College Board products issomething of an about-face for DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president in 2024 and has launched himself into several feuds with corporate behemoths. In his 2021 State of the State address, he touted Florida’s status as second in the country for the percentage of graduating seniors who have passed Advanced Placement exams.

In fact, Florida has one of the highest AP participation rates in the U.S. 

What’s the significance of Advanced Placement courses?

No one entity offers an alternative to the powerful combination of the College Board’s coursework, testing and scholarships.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of high schoolers across the U.S. take AP courses to get college credit as well as a boost on their college applications. 

High school students can earn college credit in other ways, such as taking classes at a community college. Some alternatives aren’t considered as prestigious as AP, however, and others – such as International Baccalaureate – aren’t as widely available.

Some research shows participation in AP courses, even if it results in a low score that doesn’t translate into college credit, correlates with better outcomes in higher education. 

“There are some real problems with the Advanced Placement program and some real benefits as well,” said Denise Pope, a lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education who has studied the value of AP courses for high school students.

If a state removes financial support for AP, students from wealthier families are likely to continue to be able to access the courses and take the exams, she said.

“That’s going to create a bigger rift between the haves and have-nots,” Pope said. 

“There are other options besides AP. I just don’t think DeSantis is (challenging the College Board) for the right reasons,” Pope said. “And I don’t think he has maybe enough really thought out what those alternatives would be and what it would take to put that into place in a way that wouldn’t exacerbate inequality.”

What’s going on with Florida and AP African American Studies?

The College Board and DeSantis are at war over the former’s Advanced Placement African American Studies pilot course. DeSantis had said he would prohibit it from being piloted in Florida classrooms unless the College Board removed concepts the governor and others have derided as attempts at “woke indoctrination,” such as intersectionality, Black Lives Matter and queer theory.

The exclusion of these concepts in the recently published framework outraged many on the left, who said the company was caving to political pressure. Some groups are calling for College Board CEO David Coleman to step down

Coleman, in interviews with USA TODAY and other outlets, has insisted Florida’s concerns had little influence over the revisions to the framework. But correspondence made publiclate last week suggested College Board and Florida officials had been in discussions for months. 

The College Board said in a statement Saturday that many of the concepts considered controversial have been left on as optional topics. 

College Board President David Coleman, left, and Khan Academy founder Sal Khan speak at the South by Southwest Education about free test prep materials for the SAT.
College Board President David Coleman, left, and Khan Academy founder Sai Khan speak at the South of Southwest Education about free test prep materials for the SAT. Greg Toppo

“Contemporary events like the Black Lives Matter movement, reparations, and mass incarceration were optional topics in the pilot course,” the statement said. “Our lack of clarity allowed the narrative to arise that political forces had ‘downgraded’ the role of these contemporary movements and debates in the AP class.”

DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

But in answer to a question at an appearance Tuesday in Jacksonville, he pointed to the promise of other programs such as dual-enrollment and IB.

“I don’t think anyone should be concerned about somehow our high school students not having opportunity for that,” he said.

How many students take AP courses?

Nationwide,more than 1 in 3 (35%) of high school graduates in the class of 2021 took at least one AP exam, up from roughly 29% of the graduating class a decade earlier. 

In Florida, more than half of graduating seniors take at least one AP exam. It’s typical for students at the state’s largest and most prestigious universities to have taken advanced coursework in high school, whether through AP or something else like IB or dual-enrollment. 

At Florida State University, for example, students who were admitted took an average of nine college-level courses while in high school, according to a spokesperson. 

Yet Black students are underrepresented among AP test-takers, nationally and in Florida. In the Sunshine State, Black students accounted for 21% of Class of 2021 high school graduates but just 12% of AP test-takers and 7% of the exam population scoring a 3 or higher (usually the minimum score for a student to receive college credit). White students, meanwhile, made up 40% of those who took AP exams. 

SAT to go digital, online-only and shorter as colleges ditch standardized tests
SAT to to digital, online-only and shorter as colleges ditch standardized tests. GETTY

Florida is one of 31 states and Washington, D.C., that provide funding in an effort to address inequities, subsidizing students’ participation in AP coursework and exams. This year, each AP exam costs $97

Severing ties with the College Board could have significant implications for students – particularly those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to participate in or seek out these programs.

Last year, according to Slate, the College Board sold Florida 366,150 exams, with revenue totaling $35 million. 

In addition, Florida has paid for all 10th grade students to take the PSAT at no cost for roughly 20 years and given schools, teachers and districts financial bonuses when their students pass AP exams. 

What does this mean for the SAT?

Many colleges across the country have gone test-optional in recent years. But Florida policy stipulates that public universities must require SAT or ACT scores as a condition of admission.  

In Florida, the College Board’s SAT is more common. In 2020-21, roughly 3 in 4 of the state’s high school graduates took the SAT, compared with 30% who took the ACT. 

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