AP African American Studies Pilot Introduces Diverse Changes

The College Board launched the AP African American Studies pilot program this fall. Learn why this diversity initiative is critical for students.
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  • The College Board debuted the AP African American Studies program this fall.
  • The College Board launched the first AP course in 1952.
  • AP courses have historically excluded ethnic studies.
  • AP African American Studies will provide a deep exploration of African American culture.

The College Board launched its first pilot Advanced Placement (AP) program in 1952. Despite its long history, ethnic studies courses have yet to be included.

That is scheduled to change.

This fall, the College Board added an ethnic studies course — debuting AP African American Studies in high schools across the United States.

AP courses can help students reduce tuition fees while giving them skills to succeed in their undergraduate careers. High school students enroll in AP courses to gain advanced learning skills and take exams to possibly earn college credit and bypass general education requirements.

AP African American Studies will offer students a deep understanding of African American culture beyond typical African American studies courses. Read on to learn more about course details and benefits.

What Is AP African American Studies?

Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Pittsburgh's Taylor Allderdice High School, and White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee, are among the 60 U.S. public high schools that will take part in the AP African American Studies pilot program.

The course will take students beyond the popular aspects of African American history to highlight the resistance movements and cultural traditions that influence modern history.

Topics in AP African American Studies include the reign of Queen Nzinga Mbande in northern Angola, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Black Panthers. It will also include lesser-known activists like Valerie L. Thomas, the African American scientist who invented the Illusion transmitter at NASA.

The College Board has yet to release course and exam descriptions to the public, but stated that more information on the curriculum was provided to teachers of the pilot program during AP training in July.

Importance of AP African American Studies Today

The Harlem Renaissance, the 1960s civil rights movement, and recent Black activist movements like Black Lives Matter provide a deeper examination of the Black Experience in America. These movements exposed the historical and ongoing social injustices faced by Black Americans.

AP African American Studies will give context to these issues and movements.

The AP course will prepare students for the intellectual challenge of studying African American historical and cultural influences at the college level.

African American Studies will also teach students how to relate to people from a variety of backgrounds. Students will learn how to advocate for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) — in and outside of postsecondary environments.

AP courses have historically been offered in predominantly wealthy high schools with few students of color. These programs failed to reflect the lived experiences of students from historically excluded backgrounds.

All students benefit from ethnic studies — both academically and culturally. Yet AP courses have historically excluded ethnic studies.

Stanford University research shows that culturally relevant course content increases academic performance and attendance of students across BIPOC backgrounds.

Culturally relevant course content keeps students engaged, gives them a sense of belonging, and helps all students learn to work with people from diverse backgrounds.

How AP African American Studies Supports College Readiness

The College Board hopes to help students of all backgrounds develop cultural and racial awareness. The decision to include this course in AP programming coincides with the racial justice work taking place across the country.

AP courses prepare students for college by helping them develop complex learning strategies and allowing them to earn college credits before they even enroll as undergraduates. However, not all student groups have equal access to AP classes.

In 2020, The Education Trust identified widespread barriers that cause Black and Latino/a students to miss these opportunities. Some of the barriers include a lack of funding in school districts that serve large minority populations, biases in recommendations from teachers and counselors in majority white schools that offer AP courses, and assessment and grading biases.

According to The Education Trust, 15% of high school students identify as Black, yet only 9% of these students enrolled in at least one AP course.

Of Latino/a students, who make up a quarter of the high school student population, only 21% enrolled in AP courses.

Positive high school experiences encourage students to pursue advanced educational options. When ethnicity is taught in AP courses, students of color see themselves reflected within the curricula. And they are more likely to enroll in these courses.

All students experience belonging when educators center all identities in classrooms.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP African American Studies

Why is it important to study African American history?

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African American history is American history. Students learn history to fully understand and connect with the people they live, study, and work alongside. Cultural competency is a skill that supports participation in society.

By studying America's past and present mistakes, society can create a future that is free of social disparity, bias, and discrimination.

People of African descent continue to experience injustices both in the United States and worldwide. Racial injustices include hate crimes, exclusion in higher education, higher childbirth death rates for Black women, and increased financial burdens.

Studying African American history provides insight into these disparities and their impacts.

What is the difference between African and Africana Studies?

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African studies refers to studies of Africa. Curricula in African Studies focuses less on geography and more on history and culture. Africana Studies, also called Black Studies, approaches the experiences of African people and their ancestors. Africana Studies focuses on understanding the Africana Diaspora.

Africana Studies resulted from the protests and movements driven by African American students and allies during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Early advocates for Africana Studies aimed to transform higher education by illustrating the lack of diversity in university staff and faculty. Africana Studies decenters Eurocentric experiences and models by centering the African Diaspora and connecting academic work to social change.

What are the pros and cons of AP?

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AP courses can prepare high school students for higher education. Students who take AP courses take more rigorous coursework than traditional high school classes. AP subjects include STEM, English, history, and the arts.

Many schools also offer AP language courses that include French, German, Japanese, Latin, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese. Students enrolled in these courses may earn college credit and skip introductory college courses.

The letter grade in an AP course compared to a regular course is different. For example, a letter grade of B in an AP course is higher than a B in a regular course and, in fact, may be listed on a 5.0 scale rather than a 4.0 scale.

You can earn college credit if you score well on the AP exam. However, AP exams tend to be costly. And some selective universities set their accepted AP scores higher for students to earn college credit.

AP classes strengthen college applications by demonstrating students' abilities to manage complex coursework. AP courses cover challenging topics, move quickly, and typically require more study time than other high school classes.