Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English Composition



First Reader/Committee Chair

Cavallaro, Alexandra


The Advanced Placement (AP) program was started in the 1950s to give talented students an opportunity to accelerate their studies and earn college credit. The AP English Language and Composition test that was established in 1980 became a cornerstone of the program because it allowed students to skip part or all of first-year composition. Despite the exponential growth of the course throughout the country and attention from the College Board to foster increased access for underserved students and to support program equity, the mean score on the AP Language exam for all but one ethnic minority is consistently below the passing score of three according to the College Board website. Because quantitative research demonstrates that simply taking an AP Language class does not translate into stronger college grades or retention, both scholars and some school districts have started to question the validity of the program. Research also reveals that barriers remain for students from marginalized backgrounds, such as students of color and students from low socio-economic backgrounds. This paper proposes that the test itself is a potential gatekeeper by reinforcing inequities through a traditional standardized test. Using grounded theory, critical discourse analysis, culturally relevant pedagogy, and culturally sustainable pedagogy to analyze six recently released exams, four AP provided sample syllabi, and a sampling of four teacher and district syllabi from different regions of the country, this paper demonstrates that the content provided by the College Board that shapes teacher curriculum and pedagogy, is predominantly male, white, decontextualized, and primarily focused on test preparation. Furthermore, the analysis demonstrates disturbing omissions when looking at what authors are reflected in the academic selections included in both the tests and the AP provided syllabi. Often the resulting course is isolated from students’ lives and needs and is not aligned with the demands of first year composition courses. The results raise questions about the AP Language’s course intentions and outcomes, the reification of institutional power structures, and ultimately, the ethics of the program for students from marginalized backgrounds.