Do you remember 10th grade US History? Chances are May came, the AC wasn’t turned on, and your class hadn’t even made it to World War II. It would be interesting, actually, to chart the average progress in US History courses, to see if students in the 1970s “made it further” than students in the 90s.

What about AP US History?

The College Board, creators of Advanced Placement courses and the SAT, have realized that if you measure it, people will do it. In their case, putting the exam (and all of its detailed multiple choice questions) first meant that educators and students would cram information rather than engage with concepts to strive for a deeper understanding. From a New York Times article,

“Trevor Packer, the College Board’s vice president for Advanced Placement, notes that the changes mark a new direction for the board, which has focused on the tests more than the courses.”

The issues with multiple choice exams are well known. Particular to the AP exams, in 2007 MIT acted on the limitations created by the AP Biology exam. According to the NYTs, “Stuart Schmill, M.I.T.’s dean of admissions, says the biology department found that even some of the students who scored 5’s did not have the problem-solving skills needed for higher-level courses.”

While the article discusses the creative, problem-solving approaches that the new curriculum will inspire for AP Bio students, it doesn’t discuss how the expectation of deeper learning will be assessed. It sounds as if there will be fewer questions, reflecting a paring of the curriculum to allow more time on ‘big ideas’ (the College Board has been reading its UbD). Perhaps all of the AP courses would be well served by including a module on improving memory, perhaps based on “Secrets of a Mind-Gamer.”