Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lynée Lewis Gaillet

Second Advisor

Mary Hocks

Third Advisor

George Pullman


This dissertation identifies the need for change concerning standardized assessment and Advanced Placement testing. Although society continues to advance technologically, the area of homogeneous assessments – specifically Advanced Placement tests – has become stagnant, with the AP English exam remaining nearly the same as it was over fifty years ago. Although the last sixty years of scholarship suggests that our present systems of standardized assessment do not reflect real-world application, the populace becomes more dependent on test scores each year. This work also examines the pivotal nature of education during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the shift in a national demand for increased literacy, World War II and the mounting competition between the United States and other leading nations for dominance, and the nature of standardized testing regarding the validity of Advanced Placement Language argument prompts. This dissertation examines several key points in history, including the Committee of Ten, Harvard’s influence on educational practices, and the relationship to our recent, ever-changing national standards. Throughout the dissertation, I compare the needs of contemporary American students to students a hundred years ago, and I draw parallels from existing educational issues to those from a century past. I then posit reasons why we developed into such a standardized society and became dependent on the Advanced Placement testing system. I use archival research from the Educational Testing Service headquarters to analyze the AP Language prompts from 1980 to the present, and I evaluate them for purpose, context, and appropriateness of complexity considering the time limit. My results demonstrate that several of the prompts are culturally and socio-economically biased, are too complex to be answered in 40 minutes, and do not provide students with an authentic context. These findings lead to my conclusion, that AP tests should not carry the weight that they currently do.