Happy Hunger Games: AP Edition
There have been some amazing responses of how parents, teachers, schools, and businesses have come together across the last couple weeks to solve the problems that have arisen amidst the coronavirus pandemic. There have also been some pretty poor responses. One such response is that from the College Board in how they are handing AP Exams for students this year, enacting a literal Hunger Games in which the system is heavily exposed, and the people who lose are those who are forced to play.
With all of the noise pointed at the coronavirus, there is little collective attention or organization from teacher groups to discuss these issues openly and to disrupt the injustices that are occurring. You may not have seen this, but a group of AP teachers came together to write an open letter to the College Board to address the inequities that their current solution presents. The exam, which is normally 2-3 hours, is now only 45 minutes; students without devices are being told to use smartphones, while students with desktops will be able to print questions out. The exam is only open for a small window across the world, meaning some students will take the exam at midnight, while others will take the exam at noon. Why is it that this inequitable injustice is the best solution that College Board has come up with in order to “award” students college credit for courses they take “early” during high school? And what do they think the scores will look like when they return, when students from more affluent communities achieve higher scores, not because of better instruction or more content knowledge, but because they had a printer and a large screen computer? Will students who score 5s feel as though they have accomplished something as compared to their 1 scoring peers?
Students in AP courses are being told that “this is the best we can do for you”, and many are naively going to try to do their best on a test that will measure little but privilege and wealth, believing that not doing so will somehow keep them from succeeding in the colleges to which they’ve already been accepted.
As others have said about many of the systems we have used in education simply because of tradition, it is time to question whether the system of Advanced Placement seeks to serve students or the system of capitalism so that the for-profit company of College Board can continue to earn a dollar on the backs of teachers and students worldwide. Instead of banding teachers together right now in the name of learning, the have pitted students and teachers against one another in a game they will name as grit and sacrifice for the sake of tradition.
The system of AP courses has always struggled with inequity as the populations of students in the courses almost never reflect the population of the community around it, making the courses a system of elitism for the dominant population to believe their students are “ahead” of other groups simply by gaining entry to the class (Just go check out your school’s OCR data to see how y’all are doing) . By no means am I here to judge any teacher who is still trying to “make it work” for the students enrolled in their class, trying to make the best of what you have been told you must do to “help your students”. May you come to realize, though, that in doing so, without speaking up about what is occurring, about what we know is wrong, you are just a pawn in the game they are playing.
In continuing to pretend to go on as normal, you normalize their behavior as acceptable and send the message to your students that “this is just the way things work here.” It is in times when we know an injustice is occurring and we choose to be silent that we continue to let these systems, run on tradition, prevail.
To those AP teachers whose students are testing these next few weeks, may you find space to name these injustices and ways to dismantle the system. May you join together to dream a new dream of what these learning spaces could be. Lest we “go back to normal” and pretend to not know what game we are really playing.