AP Annual Conference 2023

What’s Ahead for the AP Program: Discussing and Prioritizing Potential Changes

Advanced Placement® courses have been a staple of American education for more than 60 years because the program has found ways to adapt to changing needs, trends, and technologies in classrooms across the country.

At this year’s AP® Annual Conference, Trevor Packer, the Senior Vice President for AP and Instruction at College Board, detailed some of the ways Advanced Placement will continue evolving in the years ahead. One of the most popular proposals is to make student projects a larger part of the AP experience, and to have them count toward the final exam score. In courses like AP Computer Science Principles and AP Seminar, students already submit independent projects that are scored alongside their traditional AP Exam and count toward the final score. Packer noted that courses using project-based learning tend to be more popular with students. 

“The research does seem clear that incorporating projects can be a more expansive way to measure learning,” he said. “Keeping part of the score based on something that is proctored and timed is valuable to us. But we don’t have to base all of it on that.”

Some teachers and school leaders shared worries about ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence tools that students might use to get help with a project. Figuring out strong protocols around the use of AI is important for all of AP, Packer emphasized, and something schools everywhere are working to implement. 

In discussing AP’s gradual move toward digital exams, Packer polled the room on whether they’d like to see a more rapid or more deliberate transition away from paper and pencil. More than half of the teachers, coordinators, and school officials attending the session voiced their support for a quicker shift to digital exams. Currently, seven AP subjects offer exams in a fully digital format, and that option has proven popular with students. Most high schoolers can type much faster and easier than they can write by hand, and more than 99% of the students who took a digital exam this year experienced no technical issues.

Digital delivery also opens up the possibility of wider testing windows for schools, making it easier to fit AP exams into a challenging academic calendar. 

Digital exams would bring a lot more flexibility. By not shipping paper all around the world, we shave off a lot of time and that gives us more flexibility.

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

The session also touched on the prospect of introducing Pre-AP® courses into middle schools, helping create a broader and more diverse pipeline of students ready for AP courses by high school. Packer also gave an overview of early work on Career Kickstart, an initiative to explore how AP courses might help students earn high-quality career credentials and prepare for promising jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. “Students would have relevant, high-quality instruction that would lead to industry-recognized credentials,” Packer said. “We want to recognize that the four-year college path is not the only one.” 

Broadening access to AP was a core topic across many different sessions at APAC, and Packer acknowledged that there are real challenges in shifting the perception of AP as being for elite students only. But with so many new initiatives in the works to bring more students into the AP fold, the evolution toward a more expansive AP Program is well under way.