Aug 9, 2023 - Education

Florida's AP Psych course correction causes confusion as school year returns

Animated illustration of an AP Psychology textbook with the words AP Psych turning into a shrug emoji.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Tampa Bay school officials were scrambling this week to prepare alternative options for more than 5,000 students who were set to take Advanced Placement Psychology amid a feud between the Florida Department of Education and the College Board.

Why it matters: The back-and-forth could cost thousands of students college credit. AP Psychology is one of the College Board's most popular courses, offering students a path to get ahead on general education classes required to graduate college.

  • More than 28,000 Florida students took the class last year, the board said.

Catch up quick: A day after the College Board asserted last week that Florida had "effectively banned" the course over its curriculum on sexual orientation and gender identity, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. pushed back, saying the class "can be taught in its entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate."

Yes, but: In a matter of a few days, the uncertainty led several school districts to pivot to other college-credit programs just before the start of the school year on Thursday.

State of play: Most Tampa Bay area districts opted for the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program, district officials told Axios. But whether that course meets standards to award students college credit remains in question, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

  • The American Psychological Association is siding with the College Board, asserting that any course that excludes gender and sexuality would violate the organization's guidelines and should not be considered for college credit.

Meanwhile, several education officials noted that the feud has left teachers and district administrators in an impossible position: teach the course and risk losing certification for violating Florida law, or take another route and risk students' opportunity for college credit.

What they're saying: Although Diaz said the course could be taught without violating state law, "no guidance was provided as to how this could be done," Polk County Superintendent Frederick Heid said Tuesday in a statement to Axios.

  • "Uncertainty and ambiguity are the two words that kind of sum up everything that has happened," Manatee County Superintendent Jason Wysong told school board members during a meeting Tuesday.
  • "There are still unanswered questions," Andrew Spar, president of the statewide teachers' union, said in a letter to Diaz.
  • "We continue to hear from educators in Florida about the challenges they face in preparing to teach AP Psychology in the upcoming school year," the College Board said Tuesday in a statement to Axios.

The other side: The department of education did not respond to Axios' request for comment Tuesday.

Zoom in: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Hernando and Manatee county schools are using AICE, district officials told Axios. Hernando and Polk will also offer psychology through the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, officials said.

The intrigue: Sarasota, with a school board largely dominated by DeSantis-endorsed conservatives, has chosen to stick with the College Board's AP Psychology course, a spokesperson said, citing Diaz's letter.

Between the lines: Florida Psychological Association executive director Deborah Foote told Axios she and other members are concerned the course dispute could turn students off from pursuing psychology and other mental health careers in the midst of a statewide therapist shortage.

  • Gender and sexuality shouldn't be filtered out of the psychology coursework, Foote told Axios, noting that the College Board's coursework was evaluated to be age-appropriate for high schoolers.
  • "Even if they don't choose to go into the field, having that basic understanding is really important for all walks of life," she said. "It's important that students relate to and treat gender-diverse people respectfully."

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