Report of AP Latin from CAMWS
Thursday, April 17, 2008, 8-10 PM
One of the two evening sessions on April 17 at CAMWS focused on AP Latin, specifically the results of the two 2007 exams, how the exams were created, and how they were graded. The three panelists included Mary Pendergraft, Dawn La Fon, and Wells Hansen. At the start of the session, Pendergraft stated that there would be plenty of time at the end for questions about AP Latin Literature, which turned out to be a solid hour from nine until ten.
Pendergraft took the first question about the chance of the College Board reversing the decision to cancel AP Latin Literature. “None of us are happy about this,” Pendergraft said. It turns out that none of the panel were involved in making the decision. They had received an e-mail some time ago that led them to believe that maybe Cicero would be cut from AP Latin Literature, but they were as surprised as everyone else when they learned that all of AP Latin Literature was to be canceled.
The AP Board has authorized the AP Latin Committee to either keep Vergil as it is, or they can do something different within the Vergil class. “Choice authors [Horace, Cicero, Catullus, Ovid] are not on the table,” Pendergraft reported. AP Vergil is good through at least 2010.
As for the reasons for the cancellation of AP Latin Literature, the decision was not entirely based on money. The budget for AP Latin is actually being increased by 50%. The decision was based in part in the College Board’s decision to have one capstone exam per AP discipline (not including Spanish). As such, it was decided that AP Latin Literature’s exam would be cut. The panel unanimously declared that the recent article in Education Weekly which stated that lack of diversity in Classics motivated the decision was groundless, and that this was not communicated to them by the Trustees.
Following this response, the questions and comments were many. “They are shutting down Classics in this country,” one delegate stated, a 32-year veteran of Latin teaching. “They give a sop to Italian [referring to the open door for subvention in order to preserve the program – to the tune of six million dollars], but not Latin. Where is the choice for Classics? The College Board is worthless.”
A colleague stated, “some sort of response is needed. What is the downside of raising hell?”
The reply was that we need to be wary of sending any kind of shrill response, instead opting for something measured. Sherwin Little, ACL president, stated that college teachers need to write letters, and that the College Board will listen then. He has had correspondence with Trevor Packer who has responded that the door will be kept open for continued dialogue regarding AP Latin Literature.
Robert Cape echoed Sherwin’s comments on college teachers writing letters. “The College Board will care about college’s acceptance”. He continued, though, stating that the College Board is not responsible for the success of Latin today. “We determine where we’re going to go.”
The chair of the Committee for the Promotion of Latin (CPL) asked “what can we do as college professors?”
Dawn La Fon focused the group into thinking about “how to use this [the cancellation announcement] for us…we need to show the College Board that Latin is of value.” La Fon continued, apologizing (even though this is not her fault). “I’m so sorry…it makes me sick to think what it’s been doing to you all.”
One teacher said that the “driving force of the Latin program is that it’s on par with all of the other AP subjects…AP Latin is a unique program that needs to be saved.”
Robert Cape then stated that “the Board of Trustees does not understand Latin and therefore does not ‘get’ why one capstone exam is not a good idea.” Looking at the list of the Board of Trustees, the members are all administrators.
Teachers remain incredulous regarding this decision. “The College Board thinks that Vergil numbers will increase after the cancellation of AP Latin Literature? This is a profound lack of comprehension of Latin and what the courses entail.”
We need to make an attempt to educate the College Board that learning Latin is different than learning a modern language.
Sherwin Little stated that the APA and ACL are working side-by-side on this issue. The CPL has also leant total support to this initiative. “What can we say to them?” the CPL president asked.
Still without an answer, the discussion moved to the impact of the cancellation on college admissions. The question lies as to whether admissions offices will admit students based on the number of AP tests taken. If high school students cannot take a second AP Latin exam, they may not take Latin altogether, instead opting for Spanish. The repercussions are great, especially for high schools that must alternate between AP Vergil and AP Latin Literature in order to keep up their numbers.
One teacher said her IB program is threatened because she can only offer AP Latin Literature to her students for the IB syllabus. Vergil just won’t cut it. Ginny Lindsey’s Latin classes may also be in jeopardy because when parents learn about the cancellation, the advanced Latin classes might not get the numbers needed for enrollment, and the Latin classes will be cancelled. With no option then for AP credit, parents might have their students opt for other AP languages instead.
There was general consensus that the AP Vergil exam does not prepare students for college proficiency exams in Latin. Prose is quite important to the mix.
Pendergraft weighed in with some long-term, long-range ideas, namely that we should try to persuade the College Board (not AP) to put into place and support AP Latin programs at the elementary school level. With the College Board currently thinking about reinventing who education can be in the United States, we are in a unique place to be able to start Latin earlier and produce a new generation of Latin students and especially teachers.
Cape stated that we should also encourage dialogue between high schools and colleges on how to promote Latin enrollment and education. Dual-enrollment programs for college credit could be an alternative to the missing AP exams or to AP Latin altogether.
Towards the end of the meeting, Cape and others began to strategize about how to pitch our letters to the Board of Trustees, namely asking them for the academic reason for canceling AP Latin Literature.
Panelist Wells Hansen moved that we ask for a College Board representative to attend a special session on this issue at ACL in June. There are so many unanswered questions, that an open dialogue would be quite helpful.
Cape thinks that we should make a Ciceronian response: “We love this great stuff that the College Board is doing, but how does the cancellation of AP Latin Literature help accomplish these goals?”
The discussion closed for the night with the president of CPL asking people to complete and publish pedagogical research on the benefits of Latin. “We need the basic pedagogical research from schools of education.” By providing the College Board with quantifiable results on how Latin improves students’ English as well as the learning of other languages, we should be able to save the program.
The door is currently open for dialogue with the College Board about this issue. And if we as concerned Classicists wish to be heard and taken seriously, the college professors in Classics departments as well as college administrators must engage in this campaign of writing articulate, logical, measured letters asking for the decision of canceling AP Latin Literature to be overturned. Colleges pay money to become member institutions of the College Board, and the potential lack of incoming Classics majors might effect the College Board’s bottom line if this money is not forthcoming from those institutions that do offer Latin.
More news will follow as we prepare for the ACL’s annual meeting in New Hampshire. Write your letters and direct them to the Board of Trustees for AP and the College Board. If you know a Board member, write that person directly to appeal this decision.
Director of eLearning
Garland High School