Academic Meritocracy In Peril

Dear The College Board CEO David Coleman:

After viewing your live cast on Daily Homeroom with Sal [Khan of Khan Academy], I respectfully request responses to my questions regarding the 2020 Advanced Placement (AP) exams, as well as my concerns about your replies regarding current high school students’ and their families’ worries.

In stating that students should not be concerned with Pass/No Pass grades, since in conversations with college admissions officers they advise that a student’s application will not be unfairly evaluated given the extenuating circumstances, you overlook the complexities of a grading system that has defined the very academic meritocracy for students and parents since its outset with the founding of America,

…meritocracy seemed a natural handmaiden to democracy.

Jay Tolson, The Hedgehog Review, Summer 2016

With a Pass/No Pass grade in a 75% completed Advanced Placement (AP) course, juniors will not gain the long-planned for GPA boost from weighted AP grades in multiple AP classes during a single school year, since Pass “grades” will not and can not be calculated into a GPA, thus, decreasing students’ confidence to apply to highly selective universities, where typically average GPA’s for admitted students are 4.0+. Lastly, the Pass “grade” can mask student’s understanding of course material, as admissions officers can’t discern the difference between one students’ Pass and another’s, as they can with the diversity of letter grades. 

Parents’ concerns may also increase, with unweighted Pass “grades” especially for AP Courses. They’ve listened and worried alongside their teens as they stressed over managing the considerable work of AP classes, in addition to maintaining commitments to their myriad of daily activities. Additionally, parents invested considerable expense and time, hiring tutors, SAT coaches, paying fees for year-round club sports, piano lessons, summer programs…for their student to develop their interests and by extension a competitive college admissions resume. Now, with Pass/No Pass, years of parents’ support seems to be undermined, only increasing their worries about their student potentially not achieving their college and career goals.

For the AP Exam itself, if students have an internet connectivity issue during the midst of the online AP test, in your conversation with Sal Khan, you’ve recommended students immediately contact administrators to change to the make up exam date. Yet, no procedure for unexpected emergencies in the midst of testing has been released. Who is the “administrator”: their teacher, the site AP coordinator, or the College Board? Also, what is your response to students worried about a systemwide technical glitch, shutting down the online tests in the midst of testing? 

Also, you’ve stated that in 22 states students will receive college credits for the 2020 AP Exams, despite the amended format. Yet, why have you not released a list of those 22 states? Will all universities within the 22 states approve of the AP scores? And, for students applying to college in the remaining 28 states which have not yet stated that students will receive the college credits for 2020 AP Exams, what recompense do you offer those students? 

Without more guidance, students cannot plan appropriately. High school seniors in the midst of choosing colleges this spring cannot understand if they can save tuition or add another major at potential colleges, since their AP Exam scores will equate to college credits for general education requirements. High school juniors can’t determine which, if any, of the AP Exams they should still plan to take in May 2020, so they can both prepare for the tests and make more informed choices about where they will apply to college, given the potential to earn college credits. 

Lastly, for students or teachers whose students need additional access to technology, the process you recommend is oxymoronic, as they must contact The College Board to request assistance via an online form. If students don’t have access to technology, then how are they going to complete this form?

In 2019 alone, The College Board netted approximately $479.3 million from AP Exam fees. Now, needing guidance from the staff worth approximately $500 million in last year’s fees, students are left with more questions than answers, in the midst of making time-sensitive, strategic decisions to continue achieving their college and career goals. Nor, in my repeated letters posted here and here, social media posts here, here, here, here, here, here and here, as well as emails to College Board’s Western Regional Offices, has anyone responded to my concerns. Without more effective communication and an openness, with the understanding that your organization is a gatekeeper to millions of students’ college admissions goals, you and your staff will add to the disenfranchisement of generations of our youth, as well as undermine the very academic meritocracy which is the foundation of The College Board.


Jill Yoshikawa, EdM

Partner, Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill is a twenty-year veteran educator and consultant, who collaboratively advises clients about their pressing educational and college admissions decisions. Conact her at

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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