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The Executive Officer’s Column

Advancing the Placement of Sociology

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer

The commitment of ASA to support the development of an Advanced Placement (AP) exam in sociology continues. One of my earliest Footnotes columns as Executive Officer was “The Sociology Pipeline Begins in High School” (February 2003) in which I summarized ASA activities related to high school sociology curricula that were presented at the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) January Conference on Educational Reform and Human Resource Development in the Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Our message to NSF was the importance of ensuring a full pipeline of students flowing into higher education sociology curricula across the nation. We needed to improve K-12 science education in sociology as part of enhancing U.S. science education generally, and by facilitating development of a long-range plan of action for educational reform, research, and human resource development in the social and behavioral sciences. Our recommendation to create more rational and comprehensive structures to achieve these goals through efforts to reach “down” earlier in the education pipeline was deliberate.

Advanced Placement Course and Test

Since then, the ASA Task Force on the AP Course in Sociology, led by Caroline Persell, Barbara Schneider, and Teresa Sullivan, has developed and successfully piloted sociology courses in both Chicago and Princeton high schools and held workshops for high school sociology teachers in San Francisco and social studies teachers in Baltimore. Persell and Schneider also received a curriculum development grant from NSF to assess and refine the course with inquiry-based web materials and classroom exercises specifically targeted at college-level students.

These are impressive efforts. Yet sociology remains missing from the College Board’s queue of new AP exams. While the College Board offers a College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) test in Introductory Sociology, college credit or advanced standing is not guaranteed by a good CLEP score. More important, there is no AP course attached to the CLEP test. It is the AP course that research shows is crucial to improving the access of youth to higher education, science careers, and college retention. This is especially true for urban and inner-city youth who are currently unequally provided with access to AP courses.

Out of 34 AP subject areas and 33 CLEP subject areas, there are 10 subject areas that currently offer both an AP test and a CLEP test—Biology, Calculus, Chemistry, French Language, German Language, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Psychology, Spanish Language, and U.S. History. A sociology AP course, such as that developed by ASA, with an accompanying AP test would be an important addition because it contains subject matter of interest to adolescents, improves quantitative literacy vital to science education generally, and develops students’ confidence in their ability to compete for and succeed in higher education.

The rationale for a sociology AP course and test is compelling. We view it as a vital intervention in the system of access to and retention in scientific careers. It can help achieve a better pipeline flow into the sciences, enhance the teaching of sociology and related science curricula in both secondary and higher education, and bring the College Board’s Advanced Placement offerings into better alignment with nation’s current science needs. This is an especially important outreach effort to members of underrepresented minority groups and other underserved populations who attend high schools in urban and rural areas without AP courses.

Expanding Access to Science Careers

Because college sociology departments have had considerable success in their efforts to attract minority students as majors, there is a potentially strong connection between having AP sociology and giving more minority students a head start on earning college credit and advanced standing, instilling the confidence to succeed academically in college, and providing a boost to recruitment and retention efforts. And for all students who are interested in sociology, earning credit through an AP sociology exam can potentially jump start taking higher-level sociology courses, seeking internships and research opportunities, and considering graduate school.

NSF is the nation’s premier basic science agency. Its program devoted to the discipline of sociology, as well as its other science and cross-disciplinary programs, provides millions of dollars annually to sociologists and sociology graduate students. Sociologists receive tens of millions of dollars of support for disciplinary and inter-disciplinary health and illness research from the National Institutes of Health and from many private foundations. The subject matter of this disciplinary and interdisciplinary research suggests that sociology is not only an important scientific domain in its own right, but that as part of the nation’s K-12 science education enterprise. It is also a potentially strong link to developing an interest in science and a sense of scientific competency in America’s youth.

The ASA is committed to continuing our efforts to establish an AP curriculum and test as a crucial part of improving U.S. science education and expanding access to higher education and science careers.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer