by John Moscatiello

The energy and excitement throughout this year’s Annual AP® Conference in Orlando was palpable. We are now just one week away from the release of AP® Classroom, which promises to become an essential resource for every AP® teacher. In addition to releasing AP® Classroom, the College Board is also implementing new registration deadlines and new Course and Exam Descriptions (CEDs) for all 38 AP® subjects.

The conference opened with a plenary address by the head of the AP® program, Trevor Packer, who explained the College Board’s rationale for implementing the changes this year. He stepped around some of the controversies about these changes and focused instead on the College Board’s commitment to equity and access. Whatever you think about the changes, you can’t deny that the College Board has expended a tremendous amount of energy, time, and money on these updates and tools for teachers.

The conference was an extraordinary opportunity for us at Marco Learning to join into the national conversation about the AP® program. This conference is a unique space for teachers to learn from each other about every aspect of the AP® program. Many of these conversations were inflected with a tone of uncertainty about how to use the new CEDs and resources. But for those teachers who have already had a chance to use the new AP® Classroom as part of a pilot program, the overriding feeling is excitement.

These were the major topics of conversation this week:

EQUITY AND ACCESS

The College Board’s equity and access mission ran throughout their messaging of the conference. They framed all the changes of this year as part of their mission for increased opportunity for all students, especially with regards to STEM education. Keynote speakers, Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls CODE, and Carmen Twillie Ambar, President of Oberlin College, were instrumental in punctuating this message with thought-provoking speeches, which drew from their own experiences. Ambar addressed the ‘next practices’ educators can use to “change society by the types of students we educate.” Over the course of the conference, it became abundantly clear that the College Board has chosen AP® as a key vehicle from which to expand that opportunity as far and wide as possible.

THE NEW AP® CLASSROOM

The new AP® Classroom could change everything about the experiences of AP® teachers and students. As David Miller, Chief Reader of AP® English Literature, said: “What makes AP unique is that it is an exam designed by teachers, taught by teachers, and scored by teachers.” This has been true from the beginning, but the new AP® Classroom may help shift the focus even more to teachers.

The AP® Classroom contains thousands of practice questions, monthly “personal progress checks” and new unit guides for teachers. All of this material has been produced by ETS and the College Board and is accessible to students after their teachers have “unlocked” the material in their dashboards. What’s striking about the AP® Classroom is the depth of its development: Having given a tremendous amount of time and effort to this project, College Board has seemingly matched the vast intricacies of this new solution to those of its challenges.

NEW REGISTRATION DEADLINES

When the College Board proposed a new AP® exam registration deadline of October 1 back in May, they received a lot of backlash from teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators. Though it was not open for debate at this conference, the topic was delicately addressed and framed as a matter of equity and access. The deadline has been extended to November 15 instead of the initial date of October 1. Students who do not register by November 15 face an additional $40 late fee in addition to the $94 registration fee.

We learned in one session run by Scott Speigel, Director of AP® Strategy and Analytics, how fall exam registration has been implemented as an evidence-based solution to the challenges of student commitment and staying power in AP® courses. We will find out this fall whether the positive effects of these deadline changes outweigh the negatives.

CHANGES TO CURRICULUM

A number of sessions at the conference were dedicated to the new course changes to a number of AP® subjects. Outside of inevitable modifications to rubrics and unit guides, we noticed an unmistakable effort to make a variety of AP® curricula more inclusive, more encouraging of College Board’s equity and access initiative. The evidence so far may be small, but it has not gone unnoticed.  In AP® English Literature, for example, the suggested titles in free-response Question 3 are much more diverse in terms of race, gender, and time period.

In response to fierce criticism against proposed changes to AP® World History, the College Board realigned the curriculum to include more history before 1450. This change is encouraging because it shows the power of teachers to control their own classrooms and the College Board’s willingness to acknowledge and accommodate teachers—even if the changes will not satisfy everyone.

COLLEGE BOARD IS RESPONSIVE, THEIR MESSAGE UNIFYING

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of the conference was that many teachers feel that they are being supported and listened to. The College Board has actively responded to debates about curricula and concerns about the new registration deadlines. Notably, the College Board has not fundamentally altered their decisions (AP® World History is still shifting to the modern period and the registration deadline is still in the fall rather than the spring), but at least they have responded to the criticism with some kind of change.

The College Board’s message about equity and access did help unite all teachers at the conference. Those of us who teach students in underserved communities know first-hand how critical this issue is to the work we do. I hope that the recent changes enacted by the College Board will help these students benefit from the AP® program the same way my colleague Alayna Vernon and I did when we were in high school.

John Moscatiello is the founder of Marco Learning. He has been a teacher, tutor, and author for AP® exams the past 17 years. Over the course of his career, John has taught more than 4,000 students, trained hundreds of teachers, written content for 13 test preparation books, and worked as an educational consultant in more than 20 countries around the world.