Responding to an outcry over proposed changes, the College Board has agreed to restore 250 years to its AP World History course to ensure that students learn how civilizations outside Europe influenced the modern era. The course will start at the year 1200 rather than the previously announced shift to 1450.
The decision comes after the College Board, a nonprofit organization that owns the SAT and Advanced Placement program, announced that it was scaling back the AP World History course it has offered since 2002. The course had covered millennia of human activity starting 10,000 years back.
The original plan called for putting the roughly 9,000 years that would no longer be covered in AP World History into a new set of courses the College Board is creating for high schools that can afford to purchase it, called Pre-AP World History and Geography.
That sparked a backlash from teachers, students and historians who said the new course starting in 1450 would be too Europe-centered and not include material needed to understand the modern world. The American Historical Association sent a letter to the College Board saying in part:
While recognizing the challenges of teaching the current course with its broad scope, the AHA believes that this particular revision is likely to reduce the teaching of precolonial histories at the high school level. It risks creating a Western-centric perspective at a time when history as a discipline and world history as a field have sought to restore as many voices as possible to the historical record and the classroom.
The College Board reacted to the criticism, saying it had reconsidered and would instead start the course at the year 1200. This is the statement it issued:
The current AP® World History course and exam attempt to cover 10,000 years of human history — from the Paleolithic Era to the present. In contrast, colleges manage the unique breadth of world history by spreading the content across multiple courses. Because AP World History does not do this, a majority of AP World History teachers have told us that they’ve been teaching too little about too much. Students’ essay scores on the end-of-year AP Exam have reflected that overwhelming challenge.
Since our recent announcement about changes to AP World History, which were meant to alleviate that problem, we’ve received thoughtful, principled feedback from AP teachers, students, and college faculty. This feedback underscores that we share the same priorities: engaging students in the rich histories of civilizations across the globe and ensuring that such important content is given the time it deserves.
Changes We’ll Make in Response to Feedback
• The AP World History: Modern course will begin in 1200 CE, rather than 1450 CE, starting in the 2019-20 school year. This change will ensure teachers and students can begin the course with a study of the civilizations in Africa, the Americas, and Asia that are foundational to the modern era.
• In addition, for schools and students interested in AP coursework that covers the full sweep of world history, we’re committed to offering a second AP world history course: AP World History: Ancient. To develop an AP World History: Ancient course, exam, and accompanying resources, we’ll first need to confirm the willingness of colleges to award credit for an additional AP world history exam, and the interest among high schools to offer two full, separate AP world history courses.
This solution covers the civilizations, societies, and individuals of world history in a way that provides students the time to learn essential content and master critical analysis and writing skills fundamental to college success.
Thank you for your passion, principled feedback, and continued support. We believe this new approach will best serve you and your students, and honor the full, essential story of human history.
When the initial changes were announced, a high school student in New Jersey started a petition on Change.org that has more than 12,000 signatures. It asked for the decision to be reversed and noted the subjects that would be omitted, including the Neolithic/Agricultural Revolution; the creation of the first civilizations; the migration of humans across Earth; and the development of classical empires such as Rome, Greece and China. Most of those subjects still would be lost under the latest plan to start the course at year 1200.
That raises questions about the very definition of “world history” and what should be included in a course with that title. It is a debate not likely to end with the latest decision from the College Board, which could force high schools to look anew at their history offerings.
The original decision to cut back some 9,000 years of world history came after teachers and students complained for years that there was too much material to cover and that most colleges were not giving credit for it. AP courses are offered in high school, and some colleges give credit to students who have achieved a high enough score on AP exams.
Some praised the changes, but others do not think adding 250 years of history that was not dominated by Europe solves the problem:
Mary Beth Norton, professor of American history at Cornell University and president of the American Historical Association, told Inside Higher Ed that she thinks the 1200 start date would allow teachers enough time “to address world historical developments prior to European exploration and expansion.”
But others were not happy, and some wondered whether the College Board should still be calling the course AP World History, when thousands of years of world history are not included.