AP Annual Conference 2023

Trevor Packer: “This Year’s AP Results Aren’t Like Anything We’ve Ever Seen”

Addressing hundreds of AP® teachers from across the country during the opening plenary at the AP Annual Conference 2023, Trevor Packer, vice president of AP and Instruction, shared the results of this year’s AP Exam administration. 

The 2023 exams marked the highest scores in 20 years, and courses like AP Human Geography and AP World History showed all-time highs. Not only were scores up, but this year saw 300,000 students added to AP classrooms, marking a full recovery in AP participation since the disruption caused by the covid pandemic. 

Packer cited the results as a clear call for expanding access. “How many more students are still sitting in classrooms with abilities to learn, grow, and earn college credit, but haven’t been welcomed into AP?” he asked. 

When students can’t advocate for themselves, your advocacy for them makes all the difference.

Trevor Packer, Vice President, AP and Instruction, College Board

Packer told the AP community that while listening to feedback from them is the most important way for the program to grow and improve, the AP team also relies on data and evidence to make decisions that benefit students. He reported back on a few recent examples, reflecting on successes and acknowledging challenges as AP aims to serve more students.

Decision #1: Whether to require students to register for AP Exams in the fall

For 58 years, AP students had a long time frame in which to decide whether to take the end-of-year exam, and some students inevitably pushed that decision late into the school year. Historically, data showed that students of color and female students enrolled in AP STEM courses were much more likely to opt out of the exam than their White and male counterparts. But the AP Program learned from many schools that set a local policy requiring students to commit to the exam at the start of the course. Those schools showed much smaller participation gaps between students of diverse backgrounds. The AP Program studied those results closely, conducted a pilot program to rigorously evaluate the impact of early exam commitment, and found that the early-deadline schools were onto something powerful.

As a result, AP overhauled how it works with schools to register students, report scores, and offer classroom resources. Since the shift to requiring fall registration, AP scores of 3 and higher have increased for every demographic group. Black female students have had the largest gain: 30%. Packer cited the score increases as a prime example of how innovations within the AP community can lead to widespread impact for students.

Decision #2: Whether to offer AP Exams to students in May 2020

When the world shut down in March 2020 in response to the covid pandemic, high school students lost out on key experiences—graduations, senior proms, and class trips. Even amid the disruption, AP students overwhelmingly said they wanted the chance to take an AP Exam and earn college credit. 

While some observers feared an all-digital, at-home AP Exam would be difficult to administer fairly, the AP Program poured resources into a secure, accessible exam that would let students finish what they started and show what they’d learned. The digital exams delivered. They gave hundreds of thousands of students the chance to participate even as their schools remained closed. AP students qualified for more than $3 billion in college credit in 2020.

Decision #3: Whether to offer instructional resources directly to students

Although nothing can match the impact of a skilled AP teacher, the AP Program decided to create AP Daily videos covering every key topic in every course. They’re designed to be an additional resource for both students and novice teachers. They can watch the videos if they’re struggling with concepts or need to hear the material covered in a unique way. The diversity of AP Daily instructors also matches the diversity of students in AP classrooms across the country.

Decision #4: What content to require in AP African American Studies

While affirming unshakeable commitment to the new AP African American Studies course, Packer acknowledged mistakes in the public introduction of the course. In attempting to navigate a challenging political environment and build a course that would be available to students across the country, College Board created a course framework with a great deal of flexibility, giving school districts and teachers more latitude in choosing topics. That decision proved controversial, and the AP Program has since committed to a firmer insistence on required topics for the class to meet AP standards. A revised framework, guided by the course development committee, is expected later this year.

A continuous discussion: How to broaden the invitation to AP

Finally, Packer called on the AP community to be “more deliberate than ever before” in making sure that AP benefits as many students as possible. College Board research shows that 1−2 AP courses a year maximizes a student’s college readiness. Taking more than five AP courses doesn’t result in greater gains in first-year college GPA or four-year degree completion. Further, a student who never saw themselves in AP may find that taking even one AP course can change their entire trajectory. Addressing that issue and figuring out the right policies and culture for inviting more students into AP was a major theme at this year’s AP Annual Conference.