Trevor Packer, the head of the College Board’s Advanced Placement program, has a lot on his plate.
There’s diversifying who takes AP classes that offer high school students a chance at money-saving college credit to assisting schools in navigating state legislation that limits instruction on race and gender.
To get a sense of where the AP program stands now, and where it’s headed, Education Week spoke with Packer in an extended interview.
To catch up on what he said, here are four major takeaways from Packer’s conversation with EdWeek.
Who takes how many AP classes
In July, at the AP annual conference in Seattle, Packer shared with AP teachers and school administrators in attendance a two-fold concern for the College Board: that a small percentage of American students were piling up AP classes on their schedules while a majority of their peers barely had access to limited AP seats.
In his interview with Education Week, Packer elaborated on that, sharing that College Board research has found one or two AP classes at most per year of high school is enough to prepare students for college. The nonprofit is working to offer free teacher training for districts who commit to offering more sections of AP classes to ensure more students have the option to enroll.
As the College Board looks to diversify the students taking AP classes, Packer shared two particular initiatives.
The first is onboarding a team with expertise in Native education to address a major disparity: Native American students are 20 percent less likely to have AP classes in their school than all other peers.
The second is addressing why Black students aren’t being enrolled at proportionate rates in AP classes. This fall, the nonprofit is expected to unveil a new school recognition program. Every high school in the country will receive an evaluation as to whether their AP classrooms look like the demographics of their school, Packer said.
He also hopes that the new AP African American Studies course will incentivize more Black students to take AP classes early on and continue to take them throughout their high school career in the same way some states have used AP Spanish as an incentive for Hispanic students.
A hard stance on AP principles vs. state laws
Within the past year, the College Board’s AP African American Studies course and AP Psychology course have appeared in headlines after Florida state officials banned the former and requested edits to the latter because of relatively new state legislation limiting how teachers can talk about race and gender in K-12 schools.
Packer said that all topics required for AP courses were deemed so because they are fundamental or foundational to equivalent college courses that students could skip if they score high enough on their AP exams.
“We as an organization have no control if current politicians want to take away or proceed to take away parental choice, or parental rights, or local control over whether or not a student enrolls in a particular elective AP course,” Packer said. “What we do have control over is to stay on the path that AP has always been on and ensure that AP reflects the core concepts required for college credit in each discipline.”
He added that schools and districts can contact the College Board for any assistance in reviewing course material and AP policies.
Logistical changes to AP classes
Looking ahead, Packer shared that digital testing options will be rolled out for AP subject exams within the next five to 10 years.
More AP exam scores will also be incorporating a project component. That is to better reflect how students are graded in college courses, Packer added.