Advanced Placement Program Releases Official AP African American Studies Framework
Today, the first day of Black History Month, the Advanced Placement® Program delivers its long-planned release of the official framework for the AP® African American Studies course. The official framework has been under development for nearly a year. It replaces the preliminary pilot course framework under discussion to date, and defines what students will encounter on the AP Exam for college credit and placement.
“This course is an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture,” said David Coleman, CEO of the College Board. “No one is excluded from this course: the Black artists and inventors whose achievements have come to light; the Black women and men, including gay Americans, who played pivotal roles in the civil rights movement; and people of faith from all backgrounds who contributed to the antislavery and civil rights causes. Everyone is seen.”
AP African American Studies is an interdisciplinary course that draws from a variety of fields—history, literature, the arts, geography, science—to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans. As with all AP courses in the humanities, this is a course that offers direct engagement with evidence and events.
To develop this course framework, the AP Program consulted with more than 300 professors of African American Studies from more than 200 colleges nationwide, including dozens of historically Black colleges and universities, along with dedicated high school teachers across the country. The course focuses on the topics where professors shared a strong consensus on the essential events, experiences, and individuals crucial to a study of African American history and culture. This process was completed in December 2022.
No states or districts have seen the official framework that is released, much less provided feedback on it. This course has been shaped only by the input of experts and long-standing AP principles and practices.
“This moment is historic and builds on the labors of so many scholars from a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds who have built this field for over a century,” said Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. “Never before have high school students had the opportunity to engage with African American history and culture in such depth and coherence. The course begins with ancient African kingdoms and traces a path from slavery to freedom. It focuses on key periods such as the American Revolution, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the rise and fall of Jim Crow segregation, and the civil rights movement. The course provides students with a firm foundation of facts and evidence about this extraordinarily rich saga of American history.”
Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University and past president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and an advisor on the course, said, “One of the breakthroughs of this course is that it is interdisciplinary. By drawing not only on history but also the arts and social sciences, the course explores how African American culture has shaped our country for centuries. It inspires students to see the complexity in history and to think analytically. High school students and their teachers as well as college faculty have long been looking forward to this course.”
Dr. Robert J. Patterson, Professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University, is co-chair of the committee of professors and teachers who developed this course for the AP Program. “The AP African American Studies course offers an unparalleled breadth of content and depth of skills that surpass what many introductory college-level African American Studies courses can accomplish within a semester or quarter, including the introductory courses that I have taught previously—and the one I will teach in fall 2023,” he said. “Since its inception, the development of the AP African American Studies course has been an on-going, iterative process that calls upon the expertise of teachers, professors, and experts who understand the key concepts, themes, and methodologies of African American Studies, and this refining process, which is a part of all AP courses, has operated independently from political pressure.”
The official framework is different from the preliminary pilot course framework in three important respects:
- New topics added: Despite an overall reduction in the breadth of the course, the monthslong review by 300 African American Studies professors nationwide added a small number of topics to address important subjects that were not adequately represented in the pilot version.
- Primary sources: The official course framework only requires the careful analysis of core historical, literary, and artistic works. As stated in the principles for AP courses published in March 2021: “AP courses ground such studies in primary sources so that students can evaluate experiences and evidence for themselves.” Hence, consistent now with every other AP course, there is no required list of secondary sources.
- Student projects: The official course framework dedicates time for students to explore topics in greater depth through a research project at the end of the course that counts as part of their AP Exam score. Students pursue their own interests and choose their topic; they can return to areas they studied earlier in the course or address contemporary topics that are not part of the required course framework. These projects allow in-depth examination of contemporary issues rather than rapid, superficial coverage of them at the end of the course.
“I want to thank the remarkable community of educators who have contributed their expertise to this course,” said Dr. Brandi Waters, Senior Director and Program Manager of African American Studies in the Advanced Placement Program and lead author of the framework. “We’re thrilled to see this rich, inspiring course come to life for students across the country.”
The Advanced Placement® Program (AP®) enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies—with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement, or both—while still in high school. Through AP courses in 38 subjects, each culminating in a challenging exam, students learn to think critically, construct solid arguments, and see many sides of an issue—skills that prepare them for college and beyond.