This College Board/Florida story continues to attract attention. I’ve followed this on LinkedIn, but I want to write just one post about it here on the blog.
I can’t help but think that the College Board’s response hints at terribly poor leadership. NYT reporting suggests that the Board capitulated to the conservative leadership of Florida when designing the AP course. But in the wake of their failure to win over conservatives, now the Board seeks to frame itself as a defender of progressive values. Is this what we talk about when we talk about gaslighting?
Increasingly, the College Board looks like an organization that is flailing about. They just aren’t very good at this sort of thing. Progressives are upset at what they perceive as capitulation to racists, while conservatives are worked up enough to ban the AP program in a bunch of red states. Everyone is angry.
Some important background information hasn’t really come up in coverage of this issue. A short history lesson is in order.
For six decades the College Board and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) enjoyed a very symbiotic relationship. The Board owned a suite of tests (SAT, PSAT, AP, etc) but ETS did all of the work. ETS designed the tests, created the questions, scored the tests, mailed the booklets, did the validity research, ensured security, and so on.
A book from the 1980s notes:
“Today, many people at ETS privately refer to the board as though it were some mildly [offensive term] younger brother, only reluctantly included in big-boy games. Although ETS executives like to claim that, insofar as the Admissions Testing program is concerned, their company is the humble servant of the Board, in fact all of the power is held by ETS.”
Even in the early 2000s, College Board business accounted for 50% of ETS revenues.
The story of this relationship is worth an essay or two. But I digress.
The relevant point right now is that in addition to the above tasks, ETS also defended the tests.
And ETS did not flail around when faced with criticism. ETS endured decades of attacks (most importantly from Ralph Nader, I suppose) about the alleged terribleness of its programs and tests. There was even an Oscar nominated film (Stand and Deliver) which highlighted some of this alleged terribleness.
How did they respond? As noted, they did not flail about. Instead, ETS responded by publishing research in their own bulletins and scholarly journals, by sponsoring and speaking at obscure conferences and symposiums, and by making public addresses in print, television and radio. They were serious. And this seriousness worked every time. Despite attacks, the SAT and AP survived and even thrived.
Anyway. It was only within the last few years that the Board canceled most of its contracts with ETS. The exact date was never made public, but I think they took back the SAT only in 2016. Most of the AP is done in-house now as well. The Board, despite its 120-year history, is quite new at all of this. That presents a problem.