The Issue with AP Language Arts

The College Board’s influence in AP Language Arts classes needs to be changed.


Art by Ava Fimmano

The clock is ticking. Your first paragraph doesn’t line up with the thesis statement well enough, but it doesn’t matter: time’s up. Your essay is shipped out to be poked and prodded by essay analyzers and will soon be slaughtered and sized up to determine the quality of the draft. After a few days, you receive a notice. Congratulations! Your draft received a premium grade of 4, what a catch! Not as good as some other people’s finds, of course, but still quite good. Colleges across the country and beyond will give you credit for your auspicious deed, and soon you might just get a few letters in the mail calling you in for a job on speed drafting, one of the most lucrative careers in the industry! You soon take up a job writing drafts as fast as one can to appease the masses, rising the ranks in the corporate monolith of McDrafts until you find yourself one of the greatest drafters in the world. On your deathbed, you draft your will moments before life leaves your eyes and feel peace knowing you have no regrets. And then you wake up… and you realize the nightmare’s only just begun.

Language Arts, the gateway into the wonders of reading, writing, grammar and unfortunately, in its AP classes, essays against the clock. While writers in the industry certainly do have to have a firm grasp of grammar and the components of writing, College Board’s focus on having students sprint through shallow stress induced essays is confounding at the very least. Language Arts teachers at Garfield place a lot of emphasis on making sure the content of the class is enriching, but teachers are often forced to juggle finding a balance between assigning engaging assignments and ones that work towards getting a good score on the AP exam. This leads AP Language Arts classes to occupy strange territories where many projects have been incredibly fun to research and complete, whereas working on AP style tests can be incredibly stressful while ending up with work that is hard to be proud of outside of what it can provide for AP scores.

On their website, College Board states that its Advanced Placement English Language course “guides students in becoming curious, critical, and responsive readers of diverse texts.” College Board’s influence in some aspects succeeds, as I am both curious and critical of College Board’s presence in the course after taking it, yet I wonder about the diversity of the texts they reference. Most of what is approved to be seen in the classroom are “classic” examples of literature, with books like The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye being staples among the lineup. Despite the claims of diversity, every assigned book save for The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Their Eyes Were Watching God in the class I took was written by a white author, with virtually zero presence of texts within the 21st century. Yet the class was able to focus on more diverse pieces in class time that wasn’t oriented towards working towards the AP exam, albeit only before reviewing for the exam crept back around the corner.

The saving grace for College Board’s involvement in the class seems to be the ability to take the test and use the score you received to gain college credit, but that system is flawed from the start. Quantifying everything you’ve learned from an entire school year of taking a class in a few hours is misrepresentative at best, and downright inaccurate at the very worst. Worse yet, this approach discourages continually building off one’s knowledge in favor of short bursts of needing to apply everything you’ve learned in the class. Once the class is over, there’s no follow up from what you’ve learned; if you take other AP classes in the future, you are practically required to forget the information you’ve gained in favor of focusing on your new classes. A solution to this would be to gain college credit based off of passing the class, but of course College Board wouldn’t be able to line their pockets as well as their current operation of forcing students and schools to cough up stacks of cash if a student wants a chance at college credit.

Literature is an art form that is justly revered by many, and certainly has a place in our schools. But what shouldn’t have a place however, is the co-option by College Board to have these classes be mired in outdated texts, misrepresentative tests, and worst of all a curriculum that sidelines valuable learning in favor of raking in the bills from AP payments.