Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva appears to have conveyed confusing and possibly inaccurate information about a last-minute move to pull the new AP African American Studies course from a list of classes recognized for credit by the state.
Confusion and upheaval erupted Friday afternoon when distraught educators started talking about the phone calls they’d received about the status of a class they were planning to start teaching three days hence. Teachers were told the state would not pay for AP testing fees for African American Studies as it does for all other AP classes, nor would the state grant credits for it toward graduation requirements.
Central High, the Little Rock School District’s flaghship high school, plans to offer four AP African American Studies classes starting Monday. So LRSD Superintendent Jermall Wright purportedly reached out to Oliva for clarification.
Wright communicated with LRSD staff and officials Sunday about his phone call with the state secretary of education, and passed along what he learned to staff by email. Wright was not available for comment Sunday. An anonymous source shared his email message with us:
“I just spoke to Secretary Oliva and here is what he was able to tell me… The biggest issue right now is that the College Board has not been able to articulate and confirm with colleges/universities what college course will be the equivalent course to AP African American Studies (AP-AAS). Per Oliva, the College Board is still piloting the course and kids who actually pass the AP-AAS course are not receiving college credit anywhere. He does not think we should be offering AP-AAS as an approved AP course until this information has been worked out with the College Board. He does think we should be promoting this course as an approved AP course when students are not guaranteed college credit for the course. He stated that these conversations with the College Board are fluid and ongoing. The deletion of the course code for AP-AAS may not be a done deal. It could change pending conversations and further development with the College Board and colleges/universities. (I am predicting that if there is a change – it will not happen this school year.) He went on to say the biggest problem (as he sees it) with the course is that it is titled AP-African American Studies and not AP-African American History. He went on to say that there is already an approved course in Arkansas titled African American History but the decision by the College Board to create an AP African American Studies course versus an AP-African American History course is complicating matters. I hope this helps to shed some light on this issue.”
If Wright’s recollection of the call is correct, it appears Oliva has perhaps been misinformed on multiple fronts.
First, Wright said, “Per Oliva, the College Board is still piloting the course and kids who actually pass the AP-AAS course are not receiving college credit anywhere.”
While it’s true that the AP African American Studies course was offered as a pilot last year without any opportunity for college credit, the status has changed. The course will be a pilot again this year, but more than 200 colleges and universities, including the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, are already signed on to recognize it for credit. Students taking the course this 2023-2024 school year will take an AP test to qualify for that college credit in May 2024.
Secondly, Wright relayed, “[Oliva] does [not] think we should be promoting this course as an approved AP course when students are not guaranteed college credit for the course.”
But Arkansas high schools already offer AP courses that are not guaranteed to earn college credits. That’s because colleges and universities set their own policies about which courses they will recognize; many institutions of higher learning won’t accept any of them.
The College Board, which creates the curriculum and tests for Advanced Placement classes, even offers this handy tool for students to search the classes they’re interested in taking to find out if the colleges they’re considering will give them credit. The new AP African American Studies course is not yet included in the tool, but will likely be recognized broadly, according to the College Board website:
A new AP course can only launch if colleges and universities commit to awarding college credit and placement to students who achieve qualifying AP Exam scores. More than 200 institutions have already committed to supporting AP African American Studies through credit and placement policies, and we are encouraging more higher education partners to support the launch of this important course.
The AP Program is committed to developing AP African American Studies and has already engaged faculty from hundreds of colleges and universities to ensure the course reflects the academic rigor of introductory college courses within the discipline.
Finally, there’s the question of semantics. Per Wright: “He went on to say the biggest problem (as he sees it) with the course is that it is titled AP-African American Studies and not AP-African American History. He went on to say that there is already an approved course in Arkansas titled African American History but the decision by the College Board to create an AP African American Studies course versus an AP-African American History course is complicating matters.”
It’s unclear why word choice would be a deal-breaker here.
We have reached out to the Arkansas Department of Education for clarification on these questions and the status of the AP African American Studies class, and will share what we learn when we hear back.