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AP exam drops 'Roe v. Wade' questions, upsetting some students and teachers

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Hundreds of thousands of high schoolers will take a difficult test a few months from now, the Advanced Placement exam on government and politics. The class that prepares students is sometimes known as AP Gov. A high enough score can earn you college credit. But one topic that students will not find on this year's exam - the Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade. Katia Riddle reports.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: High school teacher William Quigley has taught his students about Roe v. Wade every spring for the last decade. He works at a charter school in Broward County, Fla.

WILLIAM QUIGLEY: It opens up such a larger discussion.

RIDDLE: The study of significant Supreme Court cases is a cornerstone of the official curriculum in this class. Students prepare to answer essay questions on these cases for the exam. Roe v. Wade, says Quigley, is special. That's because his students can't wait to talk about it.

QUIGLEY: It's a way of getting into a talk about so much of what the implication of a modern society is and what liberty means and what are rights and what are our responsibilities.

RIDDLE: He's still planning to teach it this spring, but he doesn't have to. The nonprofit that creates the test and the curriculum is called the College Board. It announced recently that students will not be tested on Roe v. Wade this year. The legal implications for this case are evolving, the College Board wrote in a statement. Questions written in advance could be inaccurate by the time of the test. Quigley doesn't buy it.

QUIGLEY: There are a lot of AP teachers, quite honestly, who are uncomfortable teaching it. There are a lot of school districts that are uncomfortable that it's required. And I think this was an easy way for the College Board to kind of wash their hands of it for right now.

RIDDLE: The College Board declined to be interviewed for this story. They said in an email that the decision was not an effort to discourage teaching on the subject. Quigley says there's an important difference between feeling discouraged and feeling supported.

QUIGLEY: In the state of Florida, all it takes is a parent saying, I think you're inappropriate.

RIDDLE: A Florida state law allows parents to bring a legal complaint against a school district.

QUIGLEY: And although I do everything I can not to think about it or certainly not act upon it as a teacher, you almost look at your students in a different way.

RIDDLE: On a recent day after school, 11 students gathered in Quigley's classroom. A green and orange University of Miami flag hangs on the wall behind them. Every one of these students said learning about Roe was important to them. Here's senior Jamelia Fletcher.

JAMELIA FLETCHER: So it's all about the person who's teaching the class.

RIDDLE: Fletcher says if Roe is optional curriculum, teaching it could be a political decision.

FLETCHER: That brings in bias. If they're for it, you're going to learn about it. If they're not, then you're not. And it brings in a whole ethical issue, too. And then religion can become a big part of it as well.

RIDDLE: Fletcher says there aren't that many topics in this class as relevant to the lives of young adults.

FLETCHER: If you're in that situation and you need to get an abortion or want to get one, you should be able to know what to do and how it came to be.

MIGUEL BEANE: I feel like the fact that it was overruled in the Supreme Court is fine.

RIDDLE: Senior Miguel Beane thinks abortion should be legal, but he says it should be left up to the states.

BEANE: Because the states are closer to the people, and they're better able to represent the will of the people.

RIDDLE: Beane says the fact that he disagrees with some of his peers on this issue is exactly why they need to talk about it.

BEANE: I feel like we need to be careful with subjects like these, that we don't become too polarized, say, and we're unable to hear the other side.

RIDDLE: Some teachers aren't too concerned about Roe not being on the exam. David Wolfford teaches the class in Ohio. He says now that the case is overturned, it's fundamentally different than the others these kids will be tested on.

DAVID WOLFFORD: And so the College Board can't be expected to put that case in the same category.

RIDDLE: He can see the logic, he says, of removing it altogether.

WOLFFORD: I don't think the College Board's concerned about anything other than it being accurate and making sure that the test and the test questions are fair.

RIDDLE: In Florida, William Quigley says he's committed to teaching about Roe v. Wade, but he can see how some teachers might make a different choice.

QUIGLEY: I will certainly not sit in judgment of any teacher who says it's not worth the fight. It's not worth the possible pain.

RIDDLE: The unit about Roe is coming up. Quigley and his students say they're looking forward to it. As one student pointed out, what this class teaches is that you can't avoid complicated issues. For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Katia Riddle