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Social Studies

Can South Carolina Schools Teach AP African American Studies? It’s Complicated

AP Precalculus also faces a complicated rollout
By Ileana Najarro — June 05, 2024 | Updated: June 06, 2024 4 min read
Flyers, designed by Ahenewa El-Amin, decorate the halls of Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., as the teacher works to recruit students to take the AP African American Studies class.
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Updated: This story has been updated with more information on AP Precalculus.

Schools in South Carolina seeking to offer the new AP African American Studies course this fall must seek direct authorization from the College Board, and ensure their instruction meets college-level standards, after the state department of education rejected the course from its state roster for the 2024-25 school year.

The state agency also did not approve the College Board’s AP Precalculus course, according to a sent to superintendents on June 4. It wasn’t approved for its official launch in the 2023-24 school year either, according to the College Board.

The two new courses from the private nonprofit College Board aim to attract a more diverse student body taking AP courses—through which students can be eligible for college credit in high school. Yet efforts to ensure access to these courses have hit roadblocks. The AP African American Studies course faced a tumultuous rollout when in 2023, during the first year of a two-year pilot program, Florida state officials, with the support of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, banned the course, alleging it defied state legislation restricting how race can be taught in the state’s schools. That same year, Arkansas officials said the course wouldn’t count toward state graduation requirements, leaving districts to decide locally whether to offer it.

Florida, Arkansas, and South Carolina are among 17 states that—through legislation or other means—have restricted how race can be taught in K-12 schools.

In its memo clarifying that no new state course code would be created for AP African American Studies, the South Carolina education agency cited a state budget provision that restricts instruction on race as well as “pending permanent legislation.”

“Additionally, the state’s social studies standards are coming up for their routine cyclical review. As a result, the SCDE has not approved any new statewide social studies courses, instead focusing efforts to ensure future course offerings are aligned both with the soon-to-be-updated standards and state law,” the memo said.

As for the fate of AP Precalculus, a state spokesperson said “South Carolina content-area specialists, including previous AP Calculus teachers, evaluated the new course in relation to SC’s current precalculus standards and found that the course is not closely aligned to our mathematics standards.” It remains unclear if either of the courses will count toward graduation credits.

“We regret that students and educators won’t receive the full benefits provided by the state as with other AP courses,” read a statement from the College Board.

The new courses remain popular nationally

South Carolina’s education agency did issue a course code for AP African American Studies two years ago, specifically at the request of districts that wished to participate in the pilot program.

Twelve South Carolina schools participated in the second year of the pilot, with nearly 700 schools participating nationally, according to the College Board.

More than 175,000 students nationwide took AP Precalculus during its official launch in the 2023-24 school year, the College Board said. That includes 25 schools in South Carolina that taught it even after the state education agency didn’t approve it for the school year that’s coming to a close this spring.

In the memo sent to superintendents, South Carolina officials said districts could continue to offer AP African American Studies as a “locally-approved honors course.”

As a result, the College Board said it will “authorize South Carolina schools’ African American studies classes as an AP course if those courses meet college-level standards as verified by the AP Program. Schools could mark those courses as Advanced Placement on student transcripts that can be sent to colleges and universities. Students earning qualifying scores on the AP Exam would be eligible for college credit.”

At the Charleston County school district in South Carolina, which participated in the African American studies pilot, schools will “continue to offer the locally board-approved courses including an African American Studies elective course for the 2024-25 school year,” said Andy Pruitt, the district’s communications director.

“Students across the state have access to dual credit opportunities, including Dual Enrollment African American History (HIS 115) and other courses,” he said.

The state did not provide clarification prior to publication on what South Carolina schools could do regarding AP Precalculus.

So far, AP African American Studies and AP Precalculus have been two of the College Board’s most popular courses, the nonprofit said, even in states with restrictions on teaching about race. Students in the AP African American Studies pilot in Kentucky, for instance, have spoken of the personal growth they experienced through the course. Educators in Florida have lauded AP Precalculus as a means to help more students access college-level math in high school.

Historically, South Carolina has paid for the exam fees for all students enrolled in AP courses as well as AP professional development training for teachers, the College Board said. The state also offers all but two of the 39 existing AP courses—the exceptions being AP Japanese and AP Italian.

It is unclear if the state will cover such expenses for local decisions on AP African American Studies and AP Precalculus.

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