AP Annual Conference 2019: High Scores, New Resources, and the Importance of Diversifying Classrooms

Over 3,600 AP teachers, coordinators, and school administrators descended on Orlando last week for this year’s AP Annual Conference.

Over 3,600 AP teachers, coordinators, and school administrators descended on Orlando last week for this year’s AP Annual Conference where they were quickly reminded that – though they were surrounded by the wonders of Disney World – their community has the same ability to inspire magic in the lives of everyone it touches.

Trevor Packer, the senior vice president for AP and instruction, drove that message home at the opening plenary by sharing the story of Tom Lucas, an AP Macroeconomics teacher at Pflugerville High School near Austin, Texas. The school’s Kuempel Stadium has gained a measure of fame over the years after serving as the home of the Dillon Panthers in the pilot episode of NBC’s Friday Night Lights, but Lucas is a star in his own right, held in high esteem by his colleagues. His students, who come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds – have long performed well on the AP Exam for the course.

Earlier this year, Lucas suffered a brain hemorrhage. Thankfully, he would recover, but as he started his recovery, it was unclear who would take over his classroom. Dixie Ross, an AP Calculus teacher at a rival school, heard about the situation and wanted to help. Despite not being an AP Macro teacher, she ended up picking up Tom’s sections, while also keeping a normal workload at her own school. She would drive back and forth crosstown ensure that his students had an instructor; she ended up teaching 13 sections in a single semester.

Other AP educators heard about what was happening at Pflugerville and got involved; a recently retired AP teacher in Dallas – who initially offered to help grade student work while Lucas was away – ended up teaching some of his courses unpaid.

Despite all the upheaval and the real possibility that the students could be derailed by the changes they experienced, Lucas's students scored well on their AP Exams and succeeded in their classes, upholding the high expectations set by their teacher despite his absence.

That “all hands-on deck” mentality shouldn’t shock anyone, Packer noted, because “AP teachers just do this kind of thing. They’re a community.”

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Indeed.

Packer went on to report that AP Exam scores for 2019 were the highest in 15 years, even as the number of students taking AP doubled in that same time period – a demonstration that AP can deliver quality educational outcomes at scale.

Packer also previewed the exciting new classroom resources and processes that will launch for all AP students and educators on August 1,2019. In just a few weeks, he noted that students will gain access to tools that will provide them with year-round practice opportunities, teachers will be able to use new instructional supports to help them focus their teaching and provide ongoing feedback to their students, and AP coordinators can utilize a streamlined registration and ordering to improve the management of their AP programs.

Following Packer’s remarks, Stefanie Sanford, the College Board’s chief of global policy & external relations, shifted the plenary to focus on one of our society’s most pressing questions: how do we navigate the relationship between civic engagement and technology?

It’s a complex problem, but she pointed toward a potential solution wherein students master “two codes”: the U.S. Constitution and computer science. When they understand that being an empowered member of society means knowing how our civic institutions and technology work – both separately and together – they can positively influence the body politic and meet the challenges of the modern economy.

To this end, the AP program redesigned AP U.S. Government and Politics to elevate the importance of studying, understanding, and applying the lessons of the foundational documents of American democracy, and through launching a new course -  AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) -  that was designed to expand and diversify the number of students who are interested in the field.

Both courses can give students the “knowledge, skills, and agency” they need to succeed, Sanford said.

She noted that AP CSP – which had the largest launch in the program’s 60-year history in 2017 – has changed the invitation to communities and “encouraged them to think about how they can use technology to fix the issues they see where they live.”

“It matters who writes the code,” she added.

That sentiment was echoed in the conversation Sanford introduced between Auditi Chakravarty, the College Board’s senior vice president of learning, evaluation, and research, and Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code about the importance of representation in the classroom and the technology field.

Bryant, who earned an engineering degree from Vanderbilt in the 1980s, said that she was one of the few women or people of color in her classes and realized that her daughter was repeating the same cycle 30 years later. Wanting to break that cycle led to the creation of Black Girls Code, which introduces computer coding lessons to girls from underrepresented communities.

“The tech industry is not reflective of the larger community,” Bryant said, so building Black Girls Code as a space for “participants to do the work, learn, and create culturally-sensitive projects” is important. She added that groups like Black Girls Code help young students “learn how to advocate for themselves and build a sense of confidence.”

AP CSP has done its part to support increased interest in the field: when the course debuted, 14,000 females took an AP computing exam; three years later, that number has grown to nearly 48,000 female exam takers.

Despite all the positive gains she’s seen through the creation of courses like AP CSP and initiatives like Black Girls Code, Bryant said that educators need to remain focused on finding ways to perpetuate these successes.

“We have to move as educators beyond just creating access and opportunity to developing ways to keep those students supported once they're in the door,” she said.