College Board says Florida schools may not offer AP psych without gender lessons

The organization says it will not recognize any course that censors required content.
The State Board of Education has approved rules forbidding the instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation unless it's expressly allowed in state standards. That's leading to the demise of Advanced Placement psychology in Florida for the coming school year.
The State Board of Education has approved rules forbidding the instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation unless it's expressly allowed in state standards. That's leading to the demise of Advanced Placement psychology in Florida for the coming school year. [ WILLIE J. ALLEN | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Aug. 3|Updated Aug. 4

The approximately 30,000 Florida teens who planned to take the Advanced Placement psychology course might have to find something else for their schedules.

The College Board, which operates Advanced Placement, released a statement Thursday after being told the state Department of Education is requiring that their psychology courses omit lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation — a condition that the educational organization finds unacceptable.

Officials at the New York-based College Board said they learned the news from a participant in a private conference call between superintendents and state officials. Pinellas Superintendent Kevin Hendrick and Bill Montford, chief executive of the state’s superintendents’ association, later confirmed the information.

The organization called the decision an effective ban, stating that the psychology course without those lessons would not meet the criteria for the college-level course or the university credits that students can earn from completing it. The material has been part of the course for 30 years.

As a result, the nonprofit educational organization will not recognize the course if taken in Florida public schools.

“Our policy remains unchanged,” the group said in a statement released Thursday. “Any course that censors required course content cannot be labeled ‘AP’ or ‘Advanced Placement,’ and the ‘AP Psychology’ designation cannot be utilized on student transcripts.”

Hendrick said that based on the state’s action Pinellas will offer the Cambridge AICE version, which has been approved, instead of the AP course. He said the content is similar, and teachers will receive training on any differences in pacing and testing.

Hendrick said he did not want to put students at risk of losing credits they are trying to earn, or teachers at risk of violating any laws relating to teaching unauthorized content. Teachers also can earn a bonus for every student who passes an AP or AICE course and the related exam.

“We weren’t going to let this drag on,” Hendrick said, noting students return in a week. “The best thing to do is take our students and teachers out of it.”

In Hillsborough, district spokesperson Tanya Arja said officials have not made a decision yet and are evaluating the information as it becomes available.

“We still have time before the start of the school year,” Arja said. “If we have to pivot, we still have options” including Cambridge AICE and International Baccalaureate courses.

Although the move comes just a week before local students return to classes after their summer break, it has been brewing for months.

In May, the department asked the College Board, Cambridge International and International Baccalaureate to confirm that their psychology courses would follow a new state law and rules prohibiting the instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation unless expressly permitted in state standards.

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International Baccalaureate responded that it could meet that requirement. College Board, by contrast, responded in June that it would not.

“Please know that we will not modify our courses to accommodate restrictions on teaching essential, college-level topics,” the group wrote at the time. “Doing so would break the fundamental promise of AP: Colleges wouldn’t broadly accept that course for credit and that course wouldn’t prepare students for success in the discipline.”

Despite the disagreement, the State Board of Education in mid-July adopted a list of approved social studies courses for the 2023-24 academic year, and AP psychology was on it.

That action caused confusion among school officials, who noted that it seemed to contradict the earlier statements about the need to follow the laws on teaching about gender. Thursday’s meeting, which also covered other back-to-school issues, was intended to clear up the situation.

This is not the first time Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration have clashed with the College Board.

After public disagreements about the group’s new African American studies course, which DeSantis said lacked educational value, the governor mused about the possibility of replacing College Board courses and tests. Since then, the state Legislature authorized the use of Classic Learning Test as an alternative to the group’s SAT exam and allocated millions for the state to develop its own advanced courses.

Some school districts had been looking at options to keep the AP psychology course alive. In Pasco, parents were asked to fill out a form consenting to the materials that have proven controversial. Others floated the idea of teaching the course without the material about gender, and allowing students to study those lessons on their own.

It is not clear yet whether those options will be acceptable to either the state or the College Board.

The American Psychological Association issued a statement in June supporting the College Board’s decision to stand firm on the course content. It has encouraged IB and Cambridge to follow suit as recently as this week.

“The state’s recent request is not supported by scientific research or best classroom practices,” association chief executive officer Arthur Evans wrote in a letter to the two groups. “Offering what amounts to an incomplete psychology course will reduce the number of people who can obtain college credits for psychology in high school and negatively impact pathways for psychological scientists as well as mental health professionals in Florida, where students and the broader population desperately need more mental health resources.”

The College Board’s psychology course development committee, composed of four university professors and four high school teachers, stood by their position and questioned how IB and Cambridge could abide the state’s demands.

“No experienced educator or practitioner in our field would support the decision to make these topics off limits,” the committee said in a prepared statement. “We challenge IB and Cambridge to identify the experts whom they consulted prior to deciding that a fundamental component of psychological development would now be banished from the classroom instruction they seek to promote.”

The Department of Education has not responded to inquiries about the AP psychology course.

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