By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2008
The College Board told U.S. teachers in an e-mail yesterday that four underenrolled Advanced Placement courses will be eliminated after the 2008-09 academic year in the first significant retrenchment of the college preparatory program in its 53-year history.
College Board leaders, anticipating that teachers might fear additional cuts, said they have no plans to discontinue any of the other courses in its AP program, which offers twice as many tests as it did 10 years ago.
The courses being cut -- Italian, Latin literature, French literature and computer science AB -- are among the least popular in the AP portfolio. Italian, introduced three years ago, has attracted 1,642 students and 305 teachers nationwide, one-fifth the number who expressed interest before it was created, AP officials said. Courses in French and Latin literature serve 2,068 and 3,771 students, respectively. The most popular AP subjects, including U.S. history and English literature, reach hundreds of thousands of students each year.
The eliminated classes are "all less commonly taught disciplines in high schools," said Trevor Packer, vice president of the College Board for AP. "And they're under fire sometimes," he said, in school systems more focused on core subjects.
Washington area educators expressed surprise to hear of a retreat in AP, which has expanded in the region this decade.
"In my experience, I have not known the College Board to cut back," said Carol Blum, who oversees AP in Montgomery County. "I think language teachers are going to be very upset."
Washington area school officials said that a relatively small number of teachers in the region would be affected by the cuts; in Montgomery last year, only five students took the AP Italian test. Students can earn college credits through AP tests.
Paola Scazzoli, an AP Italian teacher at Wheaton High School, helped to create the test. She expressed hope yesterday that someone would step forward to offer financial support to save the course. College Board officials said that of the four eliminated courses, only Italian might be offered beyond 2009 if a backer is found.
The officials "do not want to close it. It is just a question of funding," she said.
Trustees of the New York-based College Board decided to eliminate the courses March 27 at a meeting in Reston, Packer said. The decision was communicated at 5 p.m. yesterday via e-mail to 2,519 teachers of the affected subjects and to AP program coordinators.
Packer said that a disproportionate share of those teachers, and AP courses generally, are in the Washington region. School systems in the area were among the first in recent years to embrace AP as a standard of rigorous high school instruction.
The College Board offers multiple courses in all of the affected subjects except Italian. Packer said the organization plans to increase the budget for foreign language courses from $8 million to $12 million in the coming year. The money will go toward offering teachers more resources in the remaining seven foreign language courses: language classes in Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish; a Spanish literature course; and a class in Latin on Roman poet Vergil.
For decades, AP teachers got little or no help from the College Board in framing their courses. The new investment will provide "an array of curriculum resources that go far beyond what we currently have," Packer said, including tools to test students on specific language topics and content that can be downloaded from the Internet.
The elimination of courses comes on the heels of the College Board's first quality-control audit of the AP program, which asked teachers nationwide to prove that they were teaching a class worthy of the AP label. As a result, the organization has direct e-mail contact with every AP teacher.
Other AP courses have been eliminated in past years -- music listening and literature was cut in 1991. But never have multiple classes been deleted at the same time.
Packer said, "We have no other plans to look at any other courses for discontinuation over the next five years."