Worth Checking Out: The College Board Sets a New, Demanding Pace for the Majority

Long known for its Advanced Placement (AP) courses and examinations, the College Board has recently introduced a set of demanding but flexible high school curricular materials, this time aimed at every student. Each frames a year’s thoughtful work with plenty of room for teacher choice of texts, suggests authentic assessment tasks to imbed in the course of study, and can dovetail with individual “essential questions” or adapt to other school contexts and priorities.

The Pacesetter program consists of fourth-year high school courses in mathematics and English, and a third-level course in Spanish, with hopes for more levels and subjects in the future. But along with the challenging and engaging alternatives to conventional curriculum that arrive in the six-unit teacher guide and student workbooks, it offers substantial and sustained teacher development (for a per-teacher fee of $1400 to $2100); and the lure of a national culminating assessment, scored like the AP exam (and not rank- ordered) for $20 a student.

The English course materials emphasize the use of a variety of “texts” (not textbooks), in writing and in other media, to identify and understand different “voices” and the cultures they represent. Influenced by the groundbreaking work of Brown University professor Robert Scholes, who co-chaired its design team, the curriculum also aims for students to synthesize their earlier learning and link it to a post-graduation “life plan.” An independent study of its use in several districts found that reading and writing skills of students did improve significantly with Pacesetter, as measured by questions from the NAEP reading tests and by student essay writing on an AP test item.

Pacesetter’s six pre-calculus units-all focused around using functions to mathematically model real-world contexts from the arts to sports, transportation, and the lottery-are intended to follow any Algebra 2 curriculum, and emphasize the problem solving, reasoning, communicating, and real-world connections set forth in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards. The Spanish course, intended for the third-level student, combines the study of language and culture and can be tailored to the community’s individual profile. It can directly precede the AP Spanish course for students who are continuing their study of Spanish.

For more information, contact Pacesetter at the College Board, 45 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY 10023; tel.:  800-416-5137  800-416-5137 .