Test Prep Goes Beyond Math Class

I’m the oldest of four, and my youngest sister is taking AP World History in high school. It’s her first AP class, and we were talking about it over Thanksgiving. I made a casual reference to Hammurabi, and got a blank stare in response. “I don’t think we’ve gotten to that yet.”
“No, it’s one of the first things you learn. Hammurabi’s Code? The rule of law?”
“Oh, we skipped the first three chapters, because they’re only 5% of the AP test.”

I did my best not to take it out on my little sister, but my blood boiled a bit here. I’m biased because I really love pre-history and the rise of civilization, but she’s taking AP World History — ostensibly a college-level world history course — and after three months she doesn’t know who Hammurabi is. Hammurabi! (If you don’t know who he is, I promise I won’t judge you, go look him up now.)

I get pressure from my school to make sure my students do well on standardized tests, but I’m overall pretty happy with the freedom I’m given. I know many have it much worse than me, and I know it goes way beyond math class. No surprise here.

What worried me about this is how casually my sister said it. There wasn’t a hint of trepidation or sadness that she had skipped a huge span of human history. No, the point of AP World History is to do well on a test, and those first three chapters aren’t worth the time compared with better-represented topics on the AP test. This wasn’t just a teacher making a decision because of pressure from an administrator, or even just to help kids get college credit out of the class. This was a student who had internalized that it’s totally normal for a teacher to teach to the test, and that that’s a normal goal for a class.

Maybe I’m reading too far into this. Maybe this isn’t as big a deal as I’m making it. But learning shouldn’t be for a test. That’s not learning, and that’s not what our kids deserve.

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