NH lawmakers put AP designation at risk with divisive concepts law, according to College Board principles

Image courtesy of Great Schools http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/college-prep-school/

The College Board, which administers the SAT college entrance exam and Advanced Placement courses in high schools nationwide, announced last week in a new statement of principles that high schools that ban “required topics” in their Advanced Placement classes are at risk of losing their AP designation. According to the standards, schools that ban topics related to race, culture, biology, and others could lose  their AP designation. This means schools risk losing their ability to offer certain AP courses.  

New Hampshire lawmakers passed a “divisive concepts” ban as part of the statewide budget in 2021 that states K-12 public schools can’t teach certain topics pertaining to race and gender; specifically, that one race or gender is inherently superior to another, which is often thought of as “systemic racism and sexism,” or “unconscious bias.” 

The result in NH classrooms, according to educators and school leaders, has been confusion around what the law actually means. Additionally, the law has had a chilling effect on speech and teaching about race, history, literature, and other topics. 

Now, that ban may be jeopardizing school designations that make them eligible to offer the AP program to their students. In turn, thousands of students risk losing their AP courses. These courses play an important role in the college admissions process as well as offering college credit or the ability to skip introductory level college courses.

Supporters of the law, including Representative Alicia Lekas (R-Hudson), have defended the law and have strongly opposed proposals to repeal it this year, saying that it is clear and unambiguous and does not ban any concepts. However, thousands of New Hampshire teachers, legal experts, and members of the public have testified this year that it is having a chilling impact on what’s taught in the classroom. 

The law could be in direct contradiction with the first principle in the College Board standards, which states:

AP stands for clarity and transparency. Teachers and students deserve clear expectations. The Advanced Placement Program makes public its course frameworks and sample assessments. Confusion about what is permitted in the classroom disrupts teachers and students as they navigate demanding work. 

Additionally, a number of new bill proposals may also put NH schools at risk of losing their AP designation and cause students to lose access to AP courses. House Bill 1255, the “teacher loyalty” bill proposed by Lekas, would ban the teaching of a “negative account” of U.S. history and current events. The bill could put schools and students at risk of violating the third principle, which states:

AP opposes censorship. AP is animated by a deep respect for the intellectual freedom of teachers and students alike. If a school bans required topics from their AP courses, the AP Program removes the AP designation from that course and its inclusion in the AP Course Ledger provided to colleges and universities. 

HB 1015, sponsored by Representative Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro), would require teachers to post curriculum at least two weeks in advance so that parents could opt out of any parts of the course that they or their children find “objectionable” or that “violate the student’s convictions.”

HB 1015 could also put schools and students at risk of violating one of the standards:

Parents do not define which college-level topics are suitable within AP courses; AP course and exam materials are crafted by committees of professors and other expert educators in each field. 

In February, the House Education Committee recommended killing several proposals that would repeal the content ban, including HB 1576, sponsored by Representative Manny Espitia (D-Nashua), and HB 1090, sponsored by Representative Charlotte DiLorenzo (D-Newmarket). The committee is expected to vote on HB 1255, the “teacher loyalty” bill, and HB 1015, the opt-out bill, the week of March 7. 

The committee is still accepting written testimony in the form of email at HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us

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