Opinion: The College Board is responsible for the underperforming American public education system


NBC News

In 2017 over 1.17 million students took AP subject tests, up from 1.14 million in 2016.

Owen Phillips

It’s a name that many students today know and dread: The College Board. But even if they don’t, they certainly know one of its two most successful programs: the SAT or the AP subject test. 


The College Board is a not-for-profit organization composed of over 6,000 member secondary educational institutions around the United States and serves under their charter which states that their mission is supposedly, “To provide for the continuance and development of a program of tests and examinations; to provide for a continuing program of research; to provide a medium for the cooperation of secondary schools, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning and for the discussion of their common problems; to further the development of representative opinion with respect to educational standards.”


While these pursuits seem in their nature to be fairly noble, any voice inside the public education system–student and staff alike–would tell you that the organization has done no less than create a systematic machine for competition, discrimination and oppression for students across all ethnic, economic and geographic backgrounds.


The Board’s charter also lays out its definition of itself as a not-for-profit organization, which is a laughable assertion for an organization that certainly turns a profit by the layman’s standards.


The College Board does manage to hold true to the promise to create a system of tests and examinations, almost too well. The Board has developed over 30 AP courses and exams for college prep for high school students along with the SAT and PSAT and also several college placement exams such as the Accuplacer and the CLEP. 


These exams on their own present the most obvious flaw in the system built around the College Board: cost. Each CLEP exam requires a student to pay and $89 fee. The SAT is a nearly $50 fee, but $65 with the optional essay portion. However, the real punch to the gut comes in the form of the AP subject tests at a whopping $94 per exam, $124 for any exam takers outside of North America and $142 for AP Capstone Exams. For students who are taking or have taken multiple courses, this huge fee for examinations that have become nearly required for the modern student can be devastating, especially for low-income families.


The other three pillars of the organization are interwoven with the problem at the core of the College Board: how much influence is acceptable for it to assert over the American educational system? 


The College Board claims to perform research into the issues facing students across the country, collaborate with secondary educational institutions to address the problems they find with students and their educations and to advocate for change to the appropriate channels.


Here is where there is found a conflict of interest. The College Board develops standardized examinations to assess students’ abilities and therefore give colleges guidelines to best suit the students’ needs. The College Board develops the tests themselves, the AP courses themselves and then essentially devotes the rest of its time attributing issues in the system to organizations other than itself.


AP courses have no required course work or syllabi, just a list of expectations presented to instructors to use to prepare students for the AP exam. But they offer approved materials and syllabi, along with additional course resources, should educators choose to use the Board’s own instructions.


The Board cannot be expected to reveal the flaws in the system that it built and then report them to the public, let alone the universities it has become involved with. The solutions being developed cannot be considered good-faith improvements when they are all fixated on the few factors that are not within their own sphere of control.


And to those who would argue that the organization is built on a not-for-profit principle which would, in turn, ensure its good-faith efforts, the math there doesn’t quite fit either. The New York Department of State, the governing body which regulates the College Board’s corporation status, defines a not-for-profit organization as “not formed for pecuniary profit or financial gain and the corporation’s assets, income or profit may not be distributed to or otherwise used to benefit the corporation’s members, directors or officers except as permitted by the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, e.g., as reasonable compensation for services to the corporation.”


There is no legal definition for “reasonable compensation”  under New York State financial law. Nineteen of the Board’s executives make more than $300,000 per year, with Former CEO Gaston Caperton earning $1.3 million in 2009 alone. To any reasonable person, this is far more than reasonable compensation for creating a biased and flawed system that is built on standards that moat major accredited educational interest groups find to be formulaic and inadequate. 


The problems don’t stop there either, in fact, these just scratch the surface. There is documented discrimination against minority students, sales of student data, reporting errors and the controversial figure of David Coleman as the new head of the organization. The College Board may not be the only figure causing problems in American education, but it is a major source of difficulty in creating a system that benefits educators, students and institutions alike.


The most important part of education is the students. But when loyalties lie more with corporate America and personal wealth, the people at the top don’t lose, no, the only people harmed then are the students.