The Triumph of Advanced Placement

By Jay Mathews for The Washington Post

One night in May 1986, Trevor Packer’s mother received a phone call from his high school principal. The boy had failed to sign up for the college-level Advanced Placement European history exam the next day, and the principal wondered why he wasn’t going to take it.

Packer had studied diligently in that AP course, but the 16-year-old knew that with a modest income and nine children, his parents couldn’t afford the test fee of $47. He hadn’t even bothered to ask them for the money.

The principal told his mother that if he got a good score on the test, he would earn credit for that course in college. Packer’s mother remembered disliking the huge freshman classes she’d taken at Brigham Young University, with no meaningful contact with professors. If $47 could spare her son some of that, it was worth it. She wrote the check, and after a panicked evening of cramming for the unexpected challenge, Packer took the test.

Thirty years later, due to a string of unlikely events, Packer is national director of the AP program and determined to make its fruits accessible to kids from modest backgrounds like his own. A scholarly, mild-mannered 48-year-old, Packer is pretty much unknown outside the world of AP. This is the first published article about him and his life. But he has fans. Tens of thousands of teenagers follow him on Twitter. He is the fabled bookworm emperor of AP Land. To his young admirers he is not Mr. Packer, but @AP_Trevor. He is also — along with the late Jaime Escalante, the East Los Angeles math teacher who was the subject of the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver” — the man most responsible for making the Advanced Placement program the most powerful educational tool in the country. And his leadership is a critical factor at a time when AP is both undergoing rapid expansion and facing criticism and nascent challenges.

Read more here.

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